“The Men Who Stare At Goats” is an absurd comedy that borders on genius. Its all-star cast and clever script had me laughing silly throughout. Ewan McGregor stars as Michigan journalist Bob Wilton. Dumped by his fiancé for his one-armed boss, Wilton decides to go to Iraq to pursue real journalism. Hoping to imbed with the invading US troops, Wilton gets stuck at a hotel in Kuwait where he happens upon Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Wilton is familiar with Cassady from an interview he did on the US government’s secret effort to use psychic soldiers. He finds himself on a mission with Cassady into the wiles of Iraq, where he uncovers the truth behind the Army’s ‘warrior monks’ or ‘jedi’.
Here we have a great confluence of dry humor and physical comedy. Cassady’s bizarre psychic stunts and Wilton’s tagalong antics are hilarious. While the film has a grander theme about war and the extraordinarily stupid steps taken to engage in psychic warfare, it succeeds grandly as a pure comedy. And with a lean ninety minute runtime, the plot doesn’t have a chance to get stale. I give credit to director Grant Heslov for knowing the strengths of the screenplay. He sets a perfect pace and concludes at exactly the right time. Most filmmakers have no concept of the ‘less is more’ philosophy, so Heslov gets the golf clap for realizing that.
George Clooney and Jeff Bridges (Bill Django) are fantastic as the ‘jedi warriors’. These are two of our finest American actors proving they have the range to do broad comedy once again. Clooney in particular has had a tremendous career as a comedic actor, but is rarely recognized for this ability. Dramatic roles tend to garner all the accolades, but comedy is really more difficult to do as an actor. Clooney shines in this role and, drum roll please, has achieved one of the most memorable performances of 2009.
Any good film starts with a good script and screenwriter Peter Straughan has a gem here. Adapted from the book by Jon Ronson, Straughan’s script has a great flow; incorporating a lot of voice over narration and flashback sequences. This is normally the signs of a weak script, but not in this case.
I will say that this film does have a liberal bend. Clooney and the filmmakers are always vilified as being too political, but I truly believe any moviegoer can keep politics aside and watch a movie for its merits. The Men Who Stare At Goats is a good comedy and definitely worth a trip to the theater this weekend.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is out October 17, 2009.