The Men Who Stare at Goats

It's hard to resist a satire, even when it wobbles, that insists the most unbelievable parts are the most true. If you always thought the men who run U.S. military intelligence are wack jobs, here's the farce to prove it. Michigan journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), reporting in Iraq circa 2003, stumbles on a story that dates back to the 1980s, when the government organized a secret unit of psychic warriors devoted to achieving peace through telepathy. These men can stare a goat down till its heart stops. And that's just for starters. Watch them try to walk through walls and read the minds of their foes.

Bob's source is Lyn Cassady, hilariously played by George Clooney with bulging eyes that indicate a man who is not (mixed metaphor ahead) cooking with a full deck. It's Lyn, now on a black-ops mission in Kuwait involving kidnapping and terrorism, who deep-backgrounds Bob on the New Earth Army organized by alcoholic Vietnam veteran Django (a killer-good Jeff Bridges, looking like the Dude on acid). Django conducts dance classes to let his hippie-warrior monks loosen up (the wigs alone on Bridges and Clooney make the scene a hoot). The mind-meld approach to vanquishing your enemies by these so-called Jedi (loved the deadpan on Obi-wan McGregor's face when the holy name is mentioned) pisses off group infiltrator Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey spitting sarcasm in high-comic style). It's Larry who gets New Age-y Django kicked to the curb. Are you with me? No worries. Just go with the comic flow, wrapped in striking light and shadow by wizard cinematographer Robert Elswit.

Clooney's producing partner Grant Heslov — they collaborated on the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck — directs his second feature (following Par 6) with a true sense of the absurd, even as references to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo chill the blood. The script that Brit Peter Straughan, of the misbegotten How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, carves out of Jon Ronson's nonfiction bestseller jumps back and forth in time so often you may need to stare at a goat just to maintain balance. But the go-for-broke performances help make all this paranormal activity too much fun to care.

From The Archives Issue 136: June 7, 1973
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