I went into The Men Who Stare at Goats with high expectations. How could a film possibly disappoint when you have the acting trifecta of George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and Jeff Bridges? But unfortunately, while the pros work hard to generate laughs — and they do deliver at times — the film on the whole is all over the place.
Goats is based on the non-fiction book by Jon Ronson. That's right — non-fiction. The film opens with the line, "More of this is true than you would believe," which is a nice reminder, because the plot is intentionally convoluted. At first, this far-fetched quality makes the story feel fun and quirky, but as time goes on, it gets mucked up in its own self-aware confusion and starts to feel stale. To see what I mean, read more.
McGregor stars as the movie's hero, Bob Wilton, a small-town journalist whose wife has just left him for his editor. So Bob decides to do what most men do when they're heartbroken — he goes to war. Or at least he tries to, but he only gets as far as a hotel pool bar in Kuwait. That's where he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a former "Jedi warrior" with the U.S. Army — or simply put: soldiers with superpowers. (Yes, note the coincidence: McGregor and Jedis.)
Lyn begins to tell Bob about the former founder of his unit, Bill Djanjo (Jeff Bridges), a vet who goes to find himself after Vietnam in the drug and orgy, peace and love '70s. Armed with a new, zen persona, Bill returns to the Army to share his more peaceful point of view and take charge of a new special force that uses mind control over traditional weapons. That's when Lyn comes in. As a new recruit, Lyn is exceptionally psychic, and he quickly gets a reputation for being able to find anyone, including terrorists, strictly using his mind.
So Bob and Lyn begin on a journey into Iraq. Where they're headed, Lyn's not exactly sure. He just assumes he'll find it, thanks to his extra sixth sense. As for the audience, we're sort of in the same boat — along for the ride without any real direction.
The movie tries to comment on the inhumanity (and stupidity) of war, but has a difficult time making its point alongside the slapstick elements. The actors are great with comedic timing and deliver one-liners to entertain the audience in many moments, but that was ultimately the only aspect that held my interest. (That and Jeff Bridges's sweet hippie braided hair.) What had the potential to be a funny, original story or a satire instead starts to feel boring. The characters wander aimlessly, the flashbacks float in and out, and without a clear focus, you stop caring. And that's not an easy feat where Clooney's usually concerned.