Hollywood needs more proper slapstick movies. Long gone are the days of The Marx brothers’ genius comedies that I greatly admire. The thought occurred to me when I was watching The Men Who Stare At Goats, an ensemble comedy starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, men who are interested in (para)psychic operations and their research allegedly conducted by the US Army.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is based on Jon Ronson’s book by the same name, crafted from the research conducted by John Sergeant about US Army’s study of New Age ideologies and concepts and their possible military applications. The premise itself already sounds ludicrous enough to warrant a few laughs when the producers discussed a pitch for a movie, let alone being allegedly based on actual events. It seems fact indeed is often stranger than fiction.
Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a journalist for Ann Arbor Daily Telegram, who in search for new things in his life after his wife leaves him for his editor decides to go to Iraq to cover the ongoing war. Bob flies to Kuwait to try and get across to Iraq and while waiting Bob meets Lyn Cassidy. Lyn reveals to Bob that he is actually a retired sergeant of the New Earth Army that was formed by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who was turned to pacifism after being wounded in Vietnam. Bill believes that people have psychic talents, who Bill likes to call Jedi warriors, and Lyn eventually becomes one of his finest pupils. The unit is eventually torn apart by a jealous psychic operative Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who harbours feelings of regret and revenge over his inferior psychic skills. The comedy revolves around the various hilarious experiments and methods the New Earth Army conducted and taught and the way Lyn utilises them trying to convince Bob of his psychic abilities. You can imagine how ironic it sounds when McGregor, who played the iconic Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars, claims to have never heard, let alone know of, the Jedi.
Although the movie is far from a serious, pathos-filled pacifist movie, it nevertheless contains a lot of anti-war sentiments and, unintentionally or not, glorifies the 1960s and 1970s New Age ideologies and hippies. Another relatable topic is the meaning of defining moments. In the beginning Bob is pondering about what is the true beginning of his story and goes through several events in his recent life, like his divorce, yet ends up picking the decision to go to Iraq as the turning point in his life. I think defining moments of life is a relatable topic to almost anyone who has gone through their fair share of dire straits. Despite of these serious and weighty underlying ideas, the movie retains its positive air and fast pace, you never know what to expect next, especially when the movie finally picks up on the titular goats and the men who stare at them.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is an entertaining movie, although it does have its occasional brooding moments and few forced laughs. The movie is held up mainly by the charisma and brilliant performances of the star-filled cast, especially Clooney’s and Bridges’ tongue-in-cheek outlandishness as two hippies living in the modern age, and does indeed add to this (in Hollywood standards) exceptional comedy.