The Men Who Stare at Goats
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
The Army's Cold War-era experimentation with psychic
and paranormal techniques of warfare provides the seemingly outlandish,
yet fact-based premise for "The Men Who Stare at Goats" (Overture).
George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie "The Men Who Stare at Goats."
Director Grant Heslov's adaptation of British journalist Jon
Ronson's 2004 best-seller of the same title registers as a mildly
diverting, though disorganized comedy. But this satiric tale of
soldierly excess also showcases pantheistic New Age spirituality and
implicitly condones its two main characters' indulgence in some
questionable high jinks.
Ronson's fictional stand-in is Ann Arbor, Mich., reporter Bob
Wilton (Ewan McGregor). After his wife dumps him for a colleague,
Wilton determines to prove his manly mettle by signing on to cover the
Iraq War, then in its early "Mission Accomplished" stage.
Stranded in Kuwait, and shunned by his successfully embedded
peers, Wilton is scrambling to find a way into the war zone when he
encounters eccentric military veteran Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).
Though Cassady is posing as a civilian businessman, Wilton recognizes
his name as that of a legendary figure in the Reagan-epoch New Earth
Army, a secret unit dedicated to cultivating "warrior monks" endowed
with such occult powers as remote viewing (the ability to see
far-distant objects or events) and invisibility.
Cassady is headed in country and agrees to take Wilton along.
As their problem-plagued journey—which involves them, successively,
in a kidnapping incident, various car accidents, a spell stranded in
the desert, and an urban shootout—progresses, Cassady regales Wilton
with the history of the New Earth Army's rise and fall.
Founded by Vietnam vet-turned-hippie Bill Django (Jeff
Bridges), the corps—its real-life prototype was known as the First
Earth Battalion—flourished until the selfish machinations of a
newcomer, Cassady's resentful rival Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey, playing
wonderfully easy-to-hate), jeopardized its future.
As we see in flashbacks, Django's training program included the
group recitation of a prayer to the earth, one of the pagan devotions
that his favored parotege Cassady continues to practice. We're also
shown that among the transformative therapies Django sampled during his
spiritual metamorphosis was nude co-ed hot-tubbing, though the scene is
a short and relatively restrained one.
Peter Straughan's script effectively parodies various aspects
of military psychology and behavior. But at times the outlook is
woefully simplistic, as in a late-reel scene implying that all Iraqi
prisoners of war are abused innocents who should be liberated
forthwith. And the moral implications of a practical joke involving
narcotics are ignored in favor of portraying it as an amusing lark.
The film contains rear and brief upper female nudity, neo-pagan
religious practices, drug use, a dozen instances of profanity, and
frequent rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film &
Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture
Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires
accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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