The Men Who Stare At Goats

Grant Heslov
Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
The Setup: 
A look at the Army's investigation into developing psychic warriors.

This movie came out, had a great cast of known liberal actors, seemed kind of hip and snarky, had a poster that vaguely recalled the artwork for Burn After Reading, and sort of was about the war in Iraq. So it's topical, too! And it was the kind of movie where you see the trailer and you say "Oh, I want to see that." But there was something else kind of similar out at the same time [was it The Informant? Or actually Burn After Reading?] and everyone went to see that one, and the reviews said this was a big inexplicable nothing, and it vanished. Except in the minds of people like me, who hoped that maybe the reason critics and audiences didn't like it was that it was TOO smart. You see? And people say I'm a pessimist.

We open with this Army dude staring at the camera. He then gets up, announces that he's going to walk through the wall, runs at it, hits it, and falls back. If, at this moment, you know in your heart that this film is going to end with someone running at the wall but this time sucessfully going THROUGH it, you have placed out of this course and may move on! The rest of you are stuck. But don't worry, this will NOT be on the test.

So then we meet Ewan MacGregor as Bob, reporter for this Ann Arbor paper [ironically this film came out soon after Ann Arbor's only newspaper closed] who dreams of being a big-time reporter. Then his marriage falls apart. He interviews this guy who tells of the Army's psy-ops division, mentioning the name of Lyn Cassidy. Then Bob goes to Kuwait, wanting to get into Iraq, and who should he run into, but George Clooney as Lyn Cassidy. He gloms on to Lyn and they go into Iraq the next day.

Lyn tells him of the Psy-Ops division, which was built around Jeff Bridges as Bill something, who somehow got positioned as a guru and formed this division that Lyn was a part of. So from here on out the movie alternates flashbacks to the Psy-Ops division with Bob and Lyn having misadventures in Iraq.

There's this whole thread where Lyn keeps casually hurting Bob, played as comedy. For example, at one point Lyn whips out this piece of plastic that can "hurt a person 100 ways," and uses it repeatedly on Bob. Ha. Ha. Meanwhile we're having flashbacks to the division, where Lyn is the favorite student of Bill, which makes Kevin Spacey as Larry jealous. This part goes on as Larry tries to take over the operation.

As I've said before, one indicator of how a movie is doing is the amount of stuff it inspires me to write down to remember about it, and I had completely stopped taking notes on this one 20 minutes in. Then it just goes on, until it ends. At a certain point I noticed I only had 10 minutes left, but the movie didn't seem like it was wrapping up at all. It just starts, meanders, then ends. There is not really character development, just character situations [my wife left me, I want to be a serious reporter]. I thought maybe the whole thing was supposed to be about Bob and Lyn's unusual friendship, since we spend so much time with them, but it doesn't really develop and there's not much of anything to it. But you do get to look at Clooney with a yummy stache.

Now, you know that this was developed from a nonfiction book? And I suspect that maybe it was such a crazy idea someone thought "They oughta make a movie about that!" Then they got their politically right-on actors buds to agree to be in it! Then they couldn't build all the nonfiction content into a compelling story with characters that have arcs, and you end up with this.

This was written and directed by Grant Heslov, who wrote Good Night and Good Luck, so he's not a stupid fellow. And perhaps in years to come we will discover that this is an unheralded masterpiece we just couldn't see with our narrow little minds. But probably not. There are, however, a fair amount of viewers on the IMDb who find all the deadpan talk about completely ridiculous topics to be insanely funny. Well, I guess that makes one of us.

Should you watch it: 

I don't see any reason to, especially with so many similar, better movies out there.