Posted: 11/10/2009


The Men Who Stare at Goats

by Rick Villalobos

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A surreal explanation may seem acceptable to the fanatic, but for the rest of human life, the truth is just a matter of pealing away the lies. Nothing can escape the humbug. If it floats, whales through the night or glows a fluorescent white then it must be paranormal. Phenomenon is a priceless tool for the twitchy ghost hunter, the crazed Ufologists, and the know-it-all psychic who can’t get anything right. And those who sit and wait for the answers are those who can’t separate fantasy from reality. It’s fun to believe in something that is out of this world – isn’t it? Now, blow out the candles, wish upon that star and never look under the bed because the boogieman will get you. Hear the insect chirping? That is just Jiminy Cricket keeping away the bed bugs.

The Men Who Stare at Goats was a book published in 2004. Author Jon Ronson uncovered the secrets of the U.S Army’s ties to psychic warfare and America’s First Earth Battalion – a group of gifted soldiers who can turn invisible and kill with their minds – goats that is. Yes, nothing can escape the humbug. Years later, who would of thought that this story would become a Hollywood film? Well, all the psychics in the United States military that is who.

Adapted for the big screen, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a dark comedy about a journalist played by Ewan McGregor, and his quest to find the next big story. He goes to Kuwait and finds himself – by chance – with a man named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a Special Forces operator trained in psychic warfare. Together they seek out their destiny - in Iraq no less - like true Jedi warriors or so they think they are.

Any film with such a clever and memorable title should be worth something. In this case, a dark comedy should have a proper balance between comedy and satire. We want to laugh. We want to be stunned by a topic that is so outrageous that it will leave us dazed with confusion and disbelief. The United States military training soldiers in psychic warfare is a unique concept. (Comic book and sci-fi geeks will tend to argue.) Unfortunately, The Men Who Stare at Goats should have remained in the pages of a book. It was dry, boring and lacked true satirical comedic value. That said, the direction and the acting was top notch, but that is expected from a list of top-notch actors. Alas, there is no surprise that something was lost in the translation – being a book-to-film adaptation and all.

Rick Villalobos is a writer and film critic in Chicago.

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