At a certain point in The Men Who Stare at Goats, the entire ensemble cast of George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and yes, Goat, comes together to form a troupe of actors that makes everything about the offbeat film feel right.
And the absurd and ridiculously beyond belief yet still more true than you would want to believe story that leads up to and culminates in the uniting of these mega actors is a fine tale of journalism, politics and army experimentation of a different kind, best served with a hint of dark satire and a dash of farcical screwball comedy.
The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on Jon Ronson’s book of the same name, is a look inside the attempts of US military forces to adapt and use psychic powers such as remote viewing and invisibility. More specifically, the film follows reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) as he stumbles across an ambitious story when he meets special forces operator Lyn Cassady (Clooney) who agrees to take Wilton along on his bizarre mission.
As attractive as Goats is, it’s a film that takes a little brain muscle from its viewers to be liked. The film develops slowly, following Wilton and Cassady around parts of the Middle East while interjecting flashbacks featuring the characters of Bridges and Spacey to help tell how exactly Cassady ended up where he is. Because of the intermittent disruptions the film doesn’t find its absolute bearings until a little more than halfway through the film. But once the film does develop and retain its lovable satirical style the eventual payoff is huge and redeeming.
And as much as any film of its kind, Goats is a film that absolutely relies on its ensemble cast. Similar to how Joel and Ethan Coen’s spy farce Burn After Reading used its cast of actors to gain an advantage, so does Goats. Even with a witty and smart screenplay from Peter Straughan, the right actors are needed to help turn that subtle, strange and offbeat humor into something that works. And can you think of a better actor to play a hippie-like army lieutenant versed in the studies of New Age army techniques than Jeff Bridges?
This perfect casting is what gives Goats its absolute strength during its bouts of laughter and moments of idiocy. Clooney, much like with Burn After Reading, gives an outstanding comedic performance of the paranoid kind. And the usually more serious Spacey turns in another one of his brilliant comedic performances. Tied together by McGregor and small roles from the likes of Stephen Root, Stephen Lang and Robert Patrick and you really have a cast that is absolutely perfect for the goofy screwball type of humor that Goats truly is.
The Men Who Stare at Goats has all the makings of being a cult movie. There’s really a market of people out there that’ll love this film. Conversely there’s a market that won’t really want to have anything to do with it after seeing it. It isn’t the flashiest of films, it isn’t the funniest and it isn’t the most remarkable, but it makes up for all of that by being a well-acted and strangely satisfying comedy carried by its bizarre moments and strong comedic cast.
With inspirational lines of dialogue relating to one’s destined path such as “So Anne Frank wants to grow up and be a high school teacher? Tough titties!” and the supposed origin of the creation of the Army’s slogan “Be All You Can Be”, The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those special films that will strike numerous chords with its intended crowd. It was evident from the beginning with its silly trailer and mocking poster art where it displayed the goat as one of the film’s stars that this film didn’t care about being taken seriously. And that’s a good thing, as it continues and succeeds at the ever-increasing style of odd, partly dry and satirical humor seen in films such as Burn After Reading and The Informant!, a type of humor I hope sticks around.