Anti-war satire thrills viewers
November 13, 2009
The last (near) decade has beared witness to a cavalcade of rallies, protests and antiwar sentiment poured out of the American mainstream. But none of that even begins to compare with the wacked out, zany satire that is “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” George Clooney and director Grant Heslov’s warped military farce that proves that speaking out can be easy, as long as Clooney wears shaggy wigs and Jeff Bridges gets trippy on acid. Sign me up.
“Goats” tells parallel stories that finally converge into one psychotropic message of “make love, not war.” The first piece revolves around journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor). After his marriage fails, and while desperately trying to regain a handle on his life, Bob journeys to Iraq in search of his big break. While there, he runs into Lyn Cassady (Clooney). It turns out Cassady is a recruit in the New Earth Army, an experimental branch of the military that focuses on parapsychology.
The movement was founded by acidhead vet Bill Django (Bridges). His ideology, born in the fires of Vietnam and later baptized in the hot tubs of the hippie movement, believes that wars can be fought with eagle feathers, and that soldiers transcend their physical limitations to mentally travel across the world, pass through walls and even stop the heart of a goat.
Realizing the makings of a juicy feature story that can launch his career, Bob tags along with Cassady on a secret mission that will take both men across Iraq and into Cassady’s past: the formation of the New Earth Army.
The second story takes place 20 years earlier, when Cassady trained under Django to become, what Django affectionately dubbed, a Jedi warrior. (McGregor, complete with a dead-on deadpan look, admits he doesn’t know what a Jedi is - little joke) It is in these flashbacks that we are also introduced to Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), another New Earth recruit jealous over Cassady’s success and hateful over everything he stands for. It’s Larry that eventually gets Django kicked to the curb and New Earth faded from history.
With me so far? No worries. It is the film’s irreverent and zany approach to everything from storytelling to characterization that will keep you hooked. This is only Heslov’s second time behind the camera, and it shows. The plot hops between successful parody and feigned sincerity, but the situations themselves are absurd enough to propel the movie forward, and the script is zippy enough to not get bogged down to much by its message of world-wide peace and harmony.
But the real stars here are the stars - the cast, bound together by their obvious appreciation for farce and satire, don’t waste this rare opportunity to shed their cool cat personas and just have some fun. Clooney embraces his inner clown and Bridges channels his former Lebowski as they run around on screen with reckless abandon - veritable Looney Tunes making mockery of the apparent length to which the military will go when they think there is payoff on the other end.
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is, therefore, content resting on the laurels of its cast. The performances are go-for-broke and the lunacy is too much fun to care, even when the plot strains credibility.
Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.