Movie Review of The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

by JoHarrington

High ranking members of the US military attempt to run through walls, communicate telepathically and stop goats' hearts with just a look. The bizarre details are actually true.

It's not often that I find myself laughing and applauding a scene, as it plays out on the screen. But with this movie I did.

Loosely based on Jon Ronson's non-fiction book of the same name, it's not a faithful rendering, but still absolutely hilarious.

The film follows the fortunes of a young Michigan reporter, as he enters Iraq in pursuit of a story about the war. What he actually gets is a surreal insight into a secret branch of the United States military, as they test the use of paranormal and psychic methods against the enemy.

Buy The Men Who Stare at Goats (DVD)

US Military Psychics in the Iraq War

They were Jedis. Soldiers with superpowers and the ability to kill with a single touch. They were deployed into the Middle East.

It's been a long time since I've laughed like that at a movie scene, but this one made me howl! 

The Men Who Stare at Goats is fundamentally a story about heart-break, betrayal, torture and war, so there shouldn't be anything funny about it at all.  But the sheer juxtaposition of the violence and the New Age themes worked. 

It had to be played for laughs, because there was no other way of comprehending it.

The movie is billed as a comedy, as well as a drama, and the most bizarre facts of all are actually true.  There really was a battalion of US Special Forces, based at Fort Bragg, who explored esoteric ways of gaining a military advantage. It was populated by soldiers with demonstrable psychic ability. They did train to use this in combat.

What the film does is take that reality and create a fictitious story about it.  Like it needed that!

For the geeks amongst us, there were real moments of hilarity which had nothing to with the actual story in hand.  The psychic soldiers called themselves Jedis.  Ewan McGregor played the reporter finding out about them.  I giggled so much hearing him ask, "What's a Jedi?"

If you don't know, Ewan, then the Rebel Alliance is truly sunk.

Trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats

This makes it look more like an action movie. It's not. It's more a journey. One heck of a journey at that.

Brilliantly Casted Movie

Ewan McGregor is unbelievably brilliant in whatever he stars in.  It can be taken as read that he was fantastic in this. 

But I can confirm it.  He was wonderful as always. 

The only time the fourth wall tottered was when all of those Jedi jokes were flying around.  For a moment, he was Ewan, not Bob, in my eyes, though he never once stepped out of character.

For most, it's George Clooney's performance which is the stand out one here. I agree that he gave a great performance, but so did Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Stephen Lang.

I actually came out of this looking Jeff Bridges up, because he's now someone I want to watch in more movies.

You'll want to watch this for the cast alone!

Watch the Movie on Amazon Instant Video

A Dark Satire on the Absurdities of War

Some people will ruin anything. Even the biggest outpouring of love and community in recent times was finally painted black.

Yes, the movie is funny; becoming even more so the longer that you reflect on the fact that the basic premise is true.  But once you're past the laughs, there's a depth to it too.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is quite sad and more than a little disturbing, because of what these soldiers were trying to achieve.  It wasn't reaching for inner peace and participation in the Summer of Love.  It was to win wars.

If you'd missed that in the subtly of the earlier scenes, then the ending will leave you in no doubt. 

Beyond the comedy, I found this to be quite a profound story.  People's hearts were broken; and their lives were shattered.  Not so hilarious after all.  Jon Ronson, who wrote the true story upon which this movie is based, called it 'funny stories about unfunny things', which just about sums it up.

But that, some would argue, is the job of dark comedy.  It makes you laugh because it's made you think.  Ultimately, the latter is the point.

Trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats

This one is more like the movie that I watched! I really didn't want it to end.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Book)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Blu-Ray)

Jon Ronson follows a trail set by psychic operatives within the United States military and intelligence forces. His findings formed the basis of a movie of the same name.

The Men Who Stare at Goats Does NOT Pass the Bechdel Test

It's not even close. I'm not sure that there were even two named women in it!

Image: Alice WiltonThe Bechdel Test seeks to evaluate the representation of females in movies.  The bar is set extremely low, so there's no reason that any film should fail.

There has to be more than one named female character.  They have to have a conversion with each other.  It cannot be about one of the male characters.

In The Men Who Stare at Goats, there were plenty of women amongst the extras.  But I only recall one name.  Alice Wilton was mostly seen flirting like crazy in the background of a handful of scenes at most.  The rest of the criteria just failed outright.  She didn't even speak with an extra.

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.
Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

I think that you would love it. :)

kate on 11/24/2012

this sounds really good

JoHarrington on 11/19/2012

I've not seen it. Another one to add to my list? I'm currently reading the book of this too. I love Jon Ronson to bits.

Mira on 11/19/2012

It was a fun movie :) Superb cast!! Yes, Jeff Bridges is pretty amazing. I always think of The Big Lebowski when I see him -- loved that movie!

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