The Men Who Stare at Goats

| March 18, 2010

Absurdity has become a mainstay of comedy. I suppose it has always been there in the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks but lately it is appearing as part of a new equation in laughter. We have begun to find that either a serious absurdity or an absurd seriousness often results in hilarity.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is the latest release to enact this math and it is due out on DVD the 23rd of March, 2010. A surprisingly all star cast of Oscar winners like Jeff Bridges, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey ride along with Ewan McGregor as a recently up heaved reporter who stumbles upon a strange story of military training involving physic powers, which include, obviously, staring at goats.
Director Grant Heslov and adapter Peter Straughan took pride in this absurdity, which is compounded by accounts of these things actually being true. Through interviews and research, Jon Ronson wrote a book by the same name exposing actually military work that included a multitude of jedi-like physic activity. The film then plays with the mind of the audience; disclaiming the movie with the warning “You wouldn’t believe how true this actually is.” This naturally leaves you wondering about every strange occurrence in the movie and the idea that if it could maybe be true it would be absurd and that is hilarious.
The film falls short being very heavy in dialogue, which includes large parts of narration by McGregor’s character, Bob Wilton. Serious absurdity is most funny when absorbed raw with no caveat. Too often characters pushed through too quickly with their next line. It’s ironic, too, when you think of the characters that made these actors famous: The Dude, Lester Burnham and Danny Ocean. These are all characters that were methodical, smooth and purposeful. Together in Men Who Stare they are rushed and on the nose.
The film does something quite bold, however. You find yourself at a crossroads for multiple characters, each of them beginning their own journey but at the same time playing roles that support the journeys of others. Lyn Cassidy, played by Clooney, is an ex physic operative who, after once being at the top of his class, is now washed up and seeking redemption through one last black op mission. Bob Milton (McGregor) happens upon Lyn at the beginning of his own journey. Being newly divorced and feeling obliged to be inspired, Cassidy becomes his mentor as he unravels and translates the stories of the physic ops. I’m not saying it’s never been done before and I wouldn’t at all be surprised that it’s been done better, but the parallel arcs made for good story telling and interaction between absurd characters.
Thelma Adams of US Weekly is quoted quite largely on the back of the box saying “reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their most unhinged.” Sorry, Thelma. Heslov lacked a patience and reflection that make Joel and Ethan Coen so marvelously absurd. I am only left to dream of what they would have done with this movie.
The Men Who Stare are Goats is a funny movie about funny, and apparently true, events and real people that will keep you watching and asking yourself “Would our government really do that?” Probably.

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