Some of the most memorable segments of the Don Lane Show invariably featured psychics. From Uri Geller’s spoon bending antics to Doris Stokes’ contacts with the ‘other side’, these moments usually led to much audience awe. This phenomenon has always held a fascinating appeal which The Men Who Stare At Goats looks upon with a twinkle. That it mostly succeeds in making psychics look cool would perhaps give noted sceptic James Randi nightmares.
Covering the Iraq war, reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) searches for a fresh angle which Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) provides. A soldier for the New Earth Army, a military outfit aimed at creating psychic warriors, Lyn is tasked with finding its former leader Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Learning the bizarre history of this secret unit, Bob’s curiosity is sorely tested as herds of goats, psychic spies and lots of LSD reveals these combatants are the world’s last line of defence.
As silly as this film sounds, like any good comedy it has a basis in truth. Drawing from the reported use of psychics by the FBI in the 1950’s to fight Communism, the film spins this to its wackiest extreme. There’s nothing too serious here as everyone has a grand time at exploring the absurdity of the melding of new age philosophies with armoured warfare. Even in these sequences there is a nugget of fact in how the military will go to any lengths in gaining the upper hand over its opponents. That a desperate army would do this speaks volumes of the weird ideas coming from the supposedly intelligent tactical minds.
Although it offers a lot to enjoy it suffers from a dearth of plot. It’s a bit difficult to follow where the tale is headed as the cast have such a good time they seem to forget to actually tell a story. By the time the gist of the film is evident, the momentum slows down to an almost terminal degree. Despite this it’s such a strange film told with great enthusiasm that it seems a little churlish to criticise too much as the fun effectively translates from screen. Whether you believe in any of it is another matter, even it’s if based on a non-fiction book detailing such occurrences happening.
If you run with it The Men Who Stare At Goats can be a highly amusing experience. Bizarre but fun all at once, its shortcomings should be forgiven by the exuberance of its game and energetic cast.
Rating out of 10: 7