All in the mind
Those familiar with journalist Jon Ronson will know that his choice of interviewees and approach shares commonalties with Louis Theroux’s spiel; where be it affected or not, he often appears a naïf amongst loonies. This probably reached its apex when Ronson investigated purported members of a top-secret psychic warfare unit, for a television documentary several years ago. His bizarre findings, which have also appeared in print, form the inspiration for The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Screenwriter Peter Straughan maintains Ronson’s voice in the guise of journalist Bob Wilton – played as an American by Ewan McGregor. Escaping a collapsed marriage Wilton heads to report from the front line, and ends up in a safe hotel on the outskirts of Iraq, wherein he comes across Lyn Cassady (a moustachioed George Clooney), who claims to be a Jedi warrior and secret participant in Americas psychic soldier programme.
The ensuing flashbacks detailing the new age military training programme are amusing, and introduce Jeff Bridges hippy-dippy Bill Django and his nemesis Kevin Spacey, who wishes to undermine his flower power theories. It’s from hereon in that the plot descends into a shaggy goat story, yoking Ronson’s material with an Iraq angle, tying it in with modern psychological warfare and echoing atrocities such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. Sufficed to say, the film seems to lose its way somewhat at the halfway stage, and despite the talent and genuinely out-there material, The Men Who Stare at Goats doesn’t quite fulfil its promise. It’s neither full-on hilarious or focused enough to make a decisive point. But, don’t take my word for it – I could be a part of the conspiracy. 3 stars
One of the commentaries features director Grant Heslov, a man who can confidently point out that Ewan McGregor cried real tears, no CGI there, although the walls are apparently made from pixels. A better commentary is from the originator of the material Jon Ronson, who is in a position to sift the truth from the bilge, and you will be surprised how much is based on fact. Two featurettes look at the production and the real-life inspiration for the military goat-men. A short reel of deleted and alternate scenes, character profiles and trailer round things off. 3 stars
Stars Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges
Director Grant Heslov
Distributor Momentum Pictures
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released April 19