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Should we stare at The Men Who Stare at Goats

Should we stare at ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats?’
By Ted Packard
for Salisbury Post
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” had everything going for it: a great premise, a wonderful cast, and funny characters.
Underdeveloped scenes, poor pacing, and one unbelievable character later, and the film falls short of what could have been great heights.
Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a downtrodden journalist who finds himself in 2003 Iraq in a misguided attempt to prove his self-worth. There he encounters Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), a former psychic spy for the U.S. military. The two quickly find their fates intertwined as Clooney uses his self-proclaimed “jedi” powers to various levels of effect.
Cassidy is the product of the New Earth Army, created by Jim Channon (Jeff Bridges) in the 1980s as a response to the failed conventional warfare of Viet Nam. Channon created an army unit based on love and expression, using a shaman’s attitude of healing through substance use, ecstatic states, and personal emotional exploration. These new super soldiers would not destroy their enemies with bullets, but with their non-lethal mind weapons.
While the film’s premise and cast should have ensured a hit in the comedy-satire-commentary genre, neither the screenplay nor the direction allow the film the breadth or brevity that it needs. Flashback sequences of the New Earth Army’s new-age training are the most enjoyable parts of the film, showcasing a ridiculous side of military behavior and various attempts at psychic powers.
The psychic characters, including Clooney, Bridges, and Kevin Spacey, who plays a good jerk, are the highlights of the film. The three do excellent jobs in providing convincing and humorous portraits of psychic soldiers. Their acting in Men should not be unfamiliar to fans of their prior roles, and the result is similarly enjoyable.
The shortfall of the movie is in the injection of supposed character development by McGregor, which is a hair less convincing than the necessity of his character at all. His acting is fine but the character is pedantic ó the whining, inexperienced, disbelieving stereotype being led through a desert by a much more interesting character.
The interactions between Clooney and McGregor bear funny and meaningful fruit only occasionally. The pacing and satirical nature of the writing falls flat more often than it should. The bar for this film was set higher than it achieved.
For 93 minutes of entertainment, it is not bad. For the actors and ideas involved, in spite of brief flashes of meaningful commentary on war and humanity, this film could have done better.
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Ronson. The opening screen of the film declares, “More of this is true than you would believe.”
The story of both the film and book follows loosely the history of the Stargate Program, funded by the U.S. government, which investigated the actuality and possible use of psychic phenomena.
In the film, Clooney’s Cassidy displays a myriad of supposed “jedi powers,” but the actual Stargate program’s chief concern was “remote viewing,” the process of observing or gaining information from afar. As a film and a book, liberties have been taken with history.
The result is entertaining and worth a rental, if not a movie ticket.
[3 out of 5 stars]
Ted Packard is a member of the band Momentary Prophets from Northern Virginia. They were in Salisbury the weekend of Nov. 7 and 8, stopping here to perform at Looking Glass Artist Collective as part of their tour of the East Coast.
While they were in Salisbury, they decided to take in the movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” showing at Tinseltown.
You can learn more about Momentary Prophets at www.myspace.com/momentaryprophets.

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