'Men Who Stare at Goats' fast-paced fun
The month of February is named after Februa, the
ancient Roman festival of purification, in which male participants would don goat skins and run
throughout Rome, attempting to make women fertile by striking them with strips of sacrificed
Truth is stranger than fiction, and The Men Who Stare at Goats is no exception, mixing a nearly unbelievable dose of fact with crafty fiction for a delightfully fun and fast-paced comedy.
Starring George Clooney (Three Kings, Burn After Reading), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Iron Man), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Star Wars: Episode 3) and Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, Moon), it's obvious Goats' cast had a fun time filming, and it clearly shows.
During the onset of the second Iraq war, small-time journalist and fresh divorcee Bob Wilton (McGregor) seeks to impress his ex by shipping overseas as a freelance war correspondent. Hoping to embrace the so-called romanticism of war, he instead finds Lyn Cassidy (Clooney), a former Special Forces operative who claims to have belonged to an unorthodox military unit called the New Earth Army.
The New Earth Army, classified by the U.S. government and helmed by Lt. Col. Bill Django (Bridges, in his most Dude-like role since Lebowski), was organized after Vietnam to stop war through peaceful means. NEA soldiers, Django explains, are instruments of peace - warrior monks, who must develop and hone their inherent psychic abilities for the good of all mankind.
Cassidy excels in his training and quickly becomes one of Django's most promising students, even able to track missing persons with his mind. As Cassidy later explains to Wilton, this elite squad of "Jedi warriors" can disrupt clouds, pass through walls, turn invisible (somewhat) and mind-meld with others.
But when Django is disgraced by the jealous and amusingly malicious Sgt. Hooper (Spacey), nonviolent NEA training is disbanded to focus on what Cassidy calls the "Dark Side," which involves him being forced to kill a goat by staring at it, a skill the military would like to exact on enemies.
Fast forward back to Iraq, and Wilton learns Cassidy is supposedly being reactivated for a top-secret mission in the Middle East. Hoping to write the story of a lifetime, he joins Cassidy on his bizarre adventure.
Goats is the feature-length directorial debut of Grant Heslov, known better as an actor in films like Leatherheads and True Lies. And Heslov's direction is right on target, masterfully navigating an otherwise convoluted storyline that frequently jumps from past to present and vice versa.
Clooney is superb as Cassidy, a man who takes his role as a Jedi warrior most seriously and whose earnestness, though seemingly misdirected at times, is hilariously endearing -
not to mention he's explaining all this to McGregor, who played one of the most famous Jedis of all time, Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the Star Wars prequels.
But it's Bridges who steals the show, winningly hilarious as Django, particularly during a montage of his New Age exploits while formulating the New Earth Army, from nude hot-tub parties to roof-diving to LSD journeys - all on the Army's dollar.
Like Django's "experimenting," Goats is a trip worth taking.
The Men Who Stare at Goats, rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For more information on the real-life First Earth Battalion, visit firstearthbattalion.org.