The Men Who Stare at Goats (film)

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The Men Who Stare at Goats
The Men Who Stare at Goats poster.jpg
Directed by Grant Heslov
Produced by Paul Lister
George Clooney
Grant Heslov
Screenplay by Peter Straughan
Based on The Men Who Stare at Goats 
by Jon Ronson
Starring George Clooney
Jeff Bridges
Ewan McGregor
Kevin Spacey
Music by Rolfe Kent
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by Tatiana S. Riegel
Production
  company
Smokehouse Pictures
BBC Films
Distributed by Overture Films (US)
Momentum Pictures (UK)
Release date(s)
  • September 8, 2009 (2009-09-08) (Venice)
  • November 6, 2009 (2009-11-06) (UK & US)
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $24 million[1]
Box office $67,348,218[2]

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 American war comedy film directed by Grant Heslov and based on Jon Ronson's book of the same name, an account of the investigation by Ronson and John Sergeant[3] into attempts by the U.S. military to employ psychic powers as a weapon.[4] The film stars George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, and was produced by Clooney's and Heslov's production company Smokehouse Pictures.

The film premiered at the 66th Venice International Film Festival on September 8, 2009, and went on general release in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and Italy on November 6, 2009.[5]

Plot[edit]

The film follows Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), whose wife leaves him for the newspaper's editor. Seeking an escape, Bob flies to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War and to prove to his wife and himself that he is a man. However, he stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a retired U.S. Army Special Forces operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who reveals that he was part of a U.S. Army unit training psychic spies (or "Jedi Warriors") to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, and phasing. The back story is told mainly through flashbacks.

In 1972, Army officer Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), after accidentally falling out of a "Huey" helicopter in Vietnam's Bình Dương Province, found his newly recruited men to be unable or unwilling to fire on a female Viet Cong soldier before she shot him in the chest. He then underwent a fact-finding mission prompted by a vision where the Viet Cong soldier says, "their gentleness is their strength." The bulk of Django's mission immersed him fully into the New Age movement so that, when he returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1980, he had long braided hair and a tattoo of a third eye surmounted on a pyramid on his chest.

Facilitated by the credulous General Hopgood (Stephen Lang), Django led the training of a New Earth Army, with Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) as his top students. The two quickly developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views on implementing the New Earth Army's philosophy. Lyn wanted to emphasize the teachings' positive side, such as the ability to resolve conflict peacefully, whereas Larry was more interested in the "dark side" and its military applications.

Prompted by a doodle in Bob's notebook (of an eye on a pyramid), Lyn takes him into Iraq. They are kidnapped by criminals who want to sell them to insurgents but escape with fellow hostage Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter). They are rescued by a private security detail led by Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick). The trio flees when the detail is caught in a firefight fiasco with another American security detail. Bob and Lyn then continue on Lyn's alleged "mission", stating he had seen a vision of Bill Django.

After taking the wrong fork in the road their car is disabled by an IED. The other fork in the road actually leads to al-Qaim, Lyn's destination, but neither of them was able to read the Arabic on the roadsigns. Bob and Lyn wander in the desert where Lyn reveals that he had stopped a goat's heart to test the limit of his mental abilities and believes this evil deed has cursed him and the rest of the New Earth Army. It's also revealed that Hooper conducted an unauthorized LSD experiment which resulted in a soldier killing himself, and therefore forced Django out of the Army.

Eventually, Bob and Lyn are rescued and rehabilitated at a camp run by PSIC, a private research firm engaged in psychic and psychological experiments on a herd of goats and some captured locals. To Lyn's dismay, Larry Hooper runs the firm and employs Django, now a depressed alcoholic. Bob spends time with Django and learns the ways of the New Earth Army. They spike the base's food and water with LSD and free both the goats and captured locals, in an attempt to remove the curse. Following this, Lyn and Django fly off in a helicopter, never to be heard from again, disappearing into the sky "like all shamans".

Bob returns to work as a reporter and writes an article about his entire experience with Lyn. However, he's frustrated in that the story's only portion to be aired on the news is how the captives were forced to listen to the Barney & Friends theme song for 24 hours. This dilutes his story to the level of a joke, and Bob vows to continue trying to get the bigger story out. In the film's final scene, Bob exercises his own psychic abilities and, following some intense concentration, stands up and runs headlong through a solid wall in his office.

Cast[edit]

From left to right: cast members Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, and director Grant Heslov attending the film's premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival
  • George Clooney as Lyn Cassady is a combination of several real-life psychic spies. Elements of his character are primarily based on Glenn Wheaton. Additionally, he has background details that match that of Guy Savelli, the man who claims to have killed a goat by staring it down and now runs a dance studio just as Lyn does in the film. Also, some of Lyn's actions in the film echo Peter Brusso's interactions with Jon Ronson, particularly the Predator scene, and the "attack me" scene.[6]
  • Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton, apparently inspired by Jon Ronson, the investigative journalist who uncovers the bizarre truth.[7]
  • Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, based on Jim Channon who spent two years in the 1970s investigating new age movements, and subsequently wrote an operations manual for a First Earth Battalion.[7]
  • Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper. An apparent original creation for the film, Larry represents the New Earth Army's dark side and wishes to use the non-lethal technologies in harmful ways and is the film's main antagonist.[7]
  • Robert Patrick as Todd Nixon, an original character heading up a private security firm in post-invasion Iraq.
  • Stephen Lang as General Hopgood, who is based on Major General Albert Stubblebine III, and firmly believes people can walk through walls.[8]
  • Stephen Root as Gus Lacey, who introduces Bob to the New Earth Army's concepts; also somewhat based on Guy Savelli.
  • Rebecca Mader as Debora Wilton, Bob's estranged wife; an original character.[8]
  • Glenn Morshower as Major Jim Holtz, a more by-the-book soldier.
  • Waleed Zuaiter as Mahmud Dash, an Iraqi who gets captured with Cassady and Wilton.
  • Goat as itself.

Credit controversy[edit]

The film is inspired by British journalist Jon Ronson's book, which was accompanied by the 2004 Channel 4 three-part documentary Crazy Rulers of the World. In turn, Ronson had dedicated his book to journalist and filmmaker John Sergeant, who worked intensely through 2003 and 2004 on the documentary. However, Sergeant has complained he hasn't received any credit for his part in formulating what was the inspiration for the film.[3][9] Sergeant's version of events is corroborated by a number of sources: the book The Men Who Stare at Goats itself is dedicated to Sergeant, and the afterword states: "John's research and guidance can be found on every page". Further, Colonel John Alexander – one of the story's leaders – has written to Sergeant: "If you want support for your position, tell reporters (or lawyers) to contact me. You were definitely the key person in developing the whole Goats project."[10]

Reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from film critics. Review website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 52% of 205 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.7 out of 10. The site's general consensus is that "Though The Men Who Stare at Goats is a mostly entertaining, farcical glimpse of men at war, some may find its satire and dark humor less than edgy."[11]

Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 54 based on 33 reviews.[12] George Clooney's performance was very positively received, with the following comments from the Irish Times: "Clooney shines in this remarkable story, based on actual events...Clooney is now pretty much the sole bearer of the 'classic movie star' tag, and once again, he injects a performance with a Coen brothers level of quirky. His twitches, his more ponderous moments; you buy this character because it's Clooney, and he's exceptional here."[13]

Soundtrack list[edit]

  • "Alright" - Supergrass
  • "Oudistic" - Kasbah Rockers
  • "Electric Voodoo Space Strawberry" - The Motha Lickas
  • "Itchycoo Park" - Small Faces
  • "Dancing with Myself" - Generation X
  • "Hippy Happy Shake" - The Swinging Blue Jeans
  • "Everybody Wants You" - Billy Squier
  • "More than a Feeling" - Boston
  • "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" - Army Navy
  • "Wishin' and Hopin'" - Dusty Springfield
  • "I See You" - Mark Gasbarro
  • "Desert Ride" - Rolfe Kent

DVD release[edit]

The Men Who Stare at Goats was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in Region 1 on March 23, 2010,[14] and was released in Region 2 on April 19, 2010.[15] The extras include "Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion".

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fritz, Ben (5 November 2009). "Movie projector: Holiday season kicks off with Disney's pricey 'Christmas Carol'". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ "Movie The Men Who Stare at Goats – Box Office Data". The-Numbers. Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  3. ^ a b Sergeant, John (November 18, 2009). "How My Involvement with The Men Who Stare at Goats Was Erased Entirely". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  4. ^ Steven Zeitchik (18 May 2009). "Overture to get Clooney's 'Goats'". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 June 2009. 
  5. ^ IMDb: Release dates for The Men Who Stare at Goats Retrieved 2013-02-24
  6. ^ "Gorgeous George Stares At Goats: Clooney becomes a psychic soldier". Empire. 16 May 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c "McGregor, Spacey, Bridges Stare At Goats". Empire. 12 September 2008. 
  8. ^ a b "Rebecca Mader joins 'Goats' herd". Hollywood Reporter. [dead link]
  9. ^ Akbar, Arifa (3 November 2009). "Clooney caught in crossfire as war breaks out over latest film". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  10. ^ Sergeant, John (18 November 2009). "How My Involvement with The Men Who Stare at Goats Was Erased Entirely". Huffington Post (HuffPost News). Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  12. ^ "The Men Who Stare at Goats: Reviews (2009)". Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  13. ^ "The Men Who Stare At Goats Review". Irish Times (on Ireland.com). Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  14. ^ Amazon.com page for Men DVD
  15. ^ Amazon.co.uk page for Men DVD

External links[edit]