May 26, 2010

NetPix: The Men Who Stare At Goats

Last November, a weird little movie called "The Men Who Stare At Goats" was released in the annual run up to awards season.  Unfortunately, it didn't hit with audiences or critics.  It had a A-list cast (George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges) with a  Z-list premise; a story about the history of pysch-ops in the U.S. Army from the 1970s to the war in Iraq.  Not exactly the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of. 

However, I'm happy to report this quirky little movie is a real treat.  It tells a mostly true story about the bizarre goings-on in the post-Vietnam era Army which led to the formation of a unit of so-called Jedi warriors who thought they could win battles with their minds.  Apparently, President Ronald Reagan was such a fan of their "work" that he kept the unit going even after it hit some seriously Congressional skepticism.  

As for the movie, it's kinda like a very modern Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movie....On The Road to Baghdad. It has a certain shaggy dog charm and is surprisingly entertaining.  Expertly directed by first-timer Grant Heslow, the film follows a journalist (played by McGregor) and a former Army psychic kook (played by Clooney) as they make their way from Kuwait into the war zone.  It's all inspired by the true story of the Army's pysch-ops as reported by Jon Ronson in his 2004 book .

The best thing I can say about this movie is that I had absolutely no clue where it was all going, which is a total rarity in mainstream American filmmaking these days.  The movie is filled with surprises, and laughs and even some genuine emotion.  It's also beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Elswit, who has made some stunning images for many of Paul Thomas Anderson's movies. And yes....George Clooney does kill a goat by staring at it.  He also kills the audience too.  Is there any role this guy cannot handle?    

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