Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats


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** out of *****

Years ago, Miss Cleo, a self-proclaimed psychic, starred in her own infomercial. Supposedly, in the ’80s, the U.S. Army was full of “Miss Cleos” — training and developing a division of “superwarriors” called the First Earth Battalion with abilities to read minds and move objects with thoughts.

The new movie The Men Who Stare at Goats attempts to reveal and investigate what exactly happened with this military division. Although the movie centers on an interesting topic — the development of psychic powers — it leaves too many unanswered questions. Goats has a good idea; it just poorly executes it.

The film follows Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a reporter for an Ann Arbor newspaper who goes to Iraq to report on the U.S.’s invasion. He meets a man named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who claims he’s a Jedi warrior trained by the U.S. military. Bob follows Lyn around Iraq, learning his story and eventually revealing what exactly happened to the First Earth Battalion and its superpowers.

Though an interesting idea, The Men Who Stare at Goats’ script is its major fault. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book of the same title, it’s painfully obvious that screenwriter Peter Straughan wasn’t quite sure how to bring the book to life. Rather than focusing on such basic ideas as character development and interaction, the emphasis is on how many funny one-liners Clooney’s crazy character can deliver.

A severe lack of growth plagued the story. Questions about the First Earth Battalion remained unanswered by the end of the film. The writers provide a history and a present-day scenario involving similar people, but there is a lack of connection between the two. Even though it was likely an attempt to spark viewers’ curiosity and force them to seek answers for themselves, it was too confusing. The audience is left thinking, “WTF?”

However, not everything is bad with The Men Who Stare at Goats. With such charming actors as Clooney and McGregor, combined with the talented Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, there isn’t an issue with character believability or poor acting. They all embrace and expand on the absurdity of the idea of film, offering quirky lines and mannerisms such as Bridges’ hippy character handing out eagle feathers or Spacey’s channeling an 80-year-old woman to help with his psychic powers.

Ultimately, the movie cannot escape the poor development of the script. It’s insulting to viewers to present such a controversial (and interesting) subject, then not answer the questions it raises.

Successful acting couldn’t save the lack of clarity and muddiness, and essentially, viewers learn nothing more about the film than what they saw in the TV previews. The Men Who Stare at Goats feels like an extended movie trailer.

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