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A satire, whether it’s factual or not, should always contain two main elements: entertaining jokes and a message. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” has both, providing an extremely humorous look at how the United States government spends its money on the military.
Based on the book of the same name written by Jon Ronson, the movie presents a satirical look at true events that occurred within the United States military during the 1980s. During this time period, a secret division was set up to train psychically gifted soldiers, called “Project Jedi.” The project’s goal was to figure out a way to put soldiers with psychic powers out in the field.
The movie takes place in 2003, when journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) takes a trip to Iraq. After arriving he stumbles into a former member of Project Jedi, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).
They pair take a trip across Iraq on a top secret mission Cassady has been sent on. Over the course of the trip, more and more of the history of Project Jedi is revealed to the audience through flashbacks.
The best parts of the movie occur during these flashback scenes. Jeff Bridges masterfully plays Django, the leader of the organization, appearing to channel his role as “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski.” Bridges uses his hippy-stoner routine to the fullest, training his group of soldiers how to use their “Jedi mind powers” to promote peace throughout the world.
Kevin Spacey also appears in the movie, playing a psychic soldier-in-training named Larry Hooper. He acts as the movie’s main antagonist, causing the events to unfold that eventually lead to the closing of the project. It isn’t until the last act of the movie that we truly learn what the motivation for any of the events occurring in the film is.
McGregor and Clooney play well off of each other, carrying most of the movie’s somewhat thin plot on their shoulders and providing most of the humor. Clooney continues to prove his comedic talent, playing his character with hilarious sincerity in his belief in psychic powers.
McGregor also brings plenty of comedic moments to the film. Some of his funniest occur when the word Jedi is mentioned around his character, an obvious reference to his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the second “Star Wars” trilogy.
If it were not for these actors’ great performances, the movie would have been nowhere near as good. They definitely carry the majority of the movie, as its plot is interesting but also paper-thin. The flashbacks provide great background information, but if it wasn’t for the time skips, the movie would likely be a 30-minute film.
Thankfully, these flaws can easily be overlooked, since the performances of the actors keep the movie fun, exciting and hilarious. It almost makes one forget that the movie is based on true events, as the insanity of it all makes it seem like the story could only be weaved by the imagination.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ryan Brooks at Ryan.J.Brooks@Colorado.edu.