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Move Over Dr. Strangelove, It’s Men Who Stare at Goats

For an anti-war comedy starring George Clooney, it isn’t as ideologically intense as one might expect. And it's really funny.

by
Christian Toto

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November 14, 2009 - 12:00 am
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The ultimate anti-war movie moment once belonged to Dr. Strangelove: Slim Pickens astride a nuclear weapon, whooping it up as he falls to his doom.

That killer sequence now has some company: the sight of soldiers staring down an innocent goat in a new war comedy starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.

The Men Who Stare at Goats, inspired by true events gleaned from Jon Ronson’s nonfiction book, recalls the U.S. military’s efforts to harness paranormal powers to help boost the war machine.

And yes, the soldiers in question do stare down a hapless goat at one point in the film.

Clooney’s political leanings and previous films (like Three Kings) would make one guess that Goats is just another incendiary anti-war effort. But while the film gleefully tweaks war via the aforementioned goat, the film isn’t as ideologically intense as one might expect.

It’s also blisteringly funny at times, although the film’s premise never gives way to a compelling narrative.

McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a small-town journalist who becomes a war correspondent to burnish his professional bona fides. The move also lets him escape the wreckage of his just collapsed marriage.

He ends up meeting Lyn Cassidy (Clooney), a former soldier who once worked as part of a New Age-y regiment wielding psychic powers, not just guns, on the battlefield.

Lyn is a loose cannon, a part perfectly tailored for Clooney, who seems to thrive when airlifted into farcical scenarios. He’s also not quite the innocent he appears to be.

The two end up being captured by al-Qaeda-style thugs, but the story flashes back and forth from their predicament to Lyn’s indoctrination into the New Age-y side of the military years earlier.

There we meet Bill Django (Jeff Bridges in full “Dude” mode), a pony-tailed shaman who teaches his recruits to use their minds, and plenty of hippie-approved accoutrement, to defeat the enemy. A better film would have elevated Django to cult hero status, but Bridges doesn’t bring enough singular eccentricity to his performance.

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