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THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

goats

The United States was never going to develop a force of psychic spies until they heard the Russians were, or at least that’s the jump in logic we must accept in order to believe THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. Enter Jeff Bridges, perfectly cast as Bill Django, equal parts military intelligence, paranormal researcher and daisy-wielding hippie. Django, armed only with several hemp necklaces and a long ponytail, is the commanding officer of The Earth Army, a select group of  US soldiers whose specialties include yoga, remote viewing and the ability to stare a goat to death.

Sitting on the other side of the world in a newspaper office in Michigan is Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a newspaper writer struggling to find a story and keep his wife from leaving him for his older, one-armed boss. He fails on both counts until his search for a good story takes him to Kuwait where he meets Lyn Cassady (played by George Clooney, whose at the top of his game), Django’s brightest pupil. Wilton’s nervous insecurities are the perfect foil to Cassady’s foolhardy braggadocio, and the handsome duo leave for Iraq together so Cassady can pursue his secret mission and Wilton can play reporter. As they get deeper and deeper into the desert, Cassady reveals more and more about Django’s top secret Earth Army and the kind of training they underwent in order to become Jedi Warriors (Cassady later assures Wilton that he can see a little Jedi in him too, but no Obi Wan jokes were made).

The storytelling is your basic model of flashbacks interspersed with present action, but it’s so compelling and convincing that I was totally hooked. You know that feeling when a movie is so fun to watch you don’t notice that time has passed until it’s over? This is like that – until the last 15 minutes or so. It turns out Cassady didn’t really have a mission, only a vision of Django that appeared to him in a dream. Banking on his talent for remote viewing, which is sharp as ever, he finds Django at a desert base run by the evil Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), whose jealousy of Cassady’s gift for the paranormal is what destroyed the original Earth Army to begin with. This is where the plot gets messy and doesn’t hold up to the film’s otherwise precise storytelling. Django turns out to only be a shell of his former self, and while Cassady is busy feeling sorry for himself, Wilton hooks up with the burnt-out Django, and the two of them do some yoga, drink some beers and decide to put LSD into the powdered eggs, oh yeah, and the entire base’s water supply. The next day, Hooper’s troopers space out and Cassady and Django reunite and fly off into the sunset together, never to be seen again. But instead of redeeming this whole ordeal with a bout of hard-hitting journalism, Wilton’s story gets almost no exposure and the film ends with the small consolation that he, at least, feels a little more like a Jedi Warrior and less like a divorced loser newspaper man. That said, the first 95% of the film really does outweigh the bummer of an ending.