The Men Who Stare At Goats:
Or How To Tell A True Story Through Fiction
Its never really been a well kept secret that the militaries of the world have, for lack of a better term, fringe divisions, aimed at finding the more sci fi aspects of combat and war in general, based simply on the idea that every other country is doing it and is close to a breakthrough, so you better create a deterrent to whatever they're coming up with or you're gonna get your ass kicked. When you speak of stuff like this, most people will recall detailed or vague rememberings of reading about the CIA's tests believing the key is in LSD and other mind altering drugs, trying to create "Remote viewing spies" and various other things, and ofcourse the KGB's entire division dedicated to every form of paranormal they felt could be used in the battlefield. Its all strange and confusing and unbelievably believable, and just to strange to have been made up, beyond science fiction if you will. But still, the stuff movies eat up with a spoon, or a bent spoon as the case may be.
So the question is, with such a great idea for movies, why hasn't there been one yet? Well its simple, everyone always tries to make it something more serious and technical and hard hitting drama then insane sci fi come to life and given a giant budget of government money. And people are tired of military dramas, so the question remains, how do you make it happen? The answer is simple, make up a story based on the lives of real people and real events, but change it just enough so you don't really know what is real and what fiction, and really in a case like this, you don't wanna know how much of it really is real, it'll just leave you dumbfounded. Plus changing the names and stuff makes it so much easier then paying people for their names, and dealing with the US Military.
It should be stated that with all of this said, the film version of The Men Who Stare At Goats is alot different then the book its based on, where the book was basically just three separated segments all dealing with various things used in all of these stranger then fiction military tests, where at the movie, has a fictional plot about a fictional journalist meeting fictional people and being told fictional but true story of a group of oddball soldiers who always showed odd powers that made them stand out, a group that would be known as The New World Army, a group of misfits who's entire concept is to use as much non-lethal and as little actual aggression as possible, and how after hearing their story, the reporter's life is changed forever, both for the good, and the bad.
The film starts out in 2003 in Ann Arbor Michigan, where local newspaper reporter Bob Wilton was asked to do a report on a local man named Gus Lacey that claimed he killed his hamster with his mind, Bob goes to see if its a crackpot or not, he's then shown a video of Gus' hamsters, first with one showing bizarre behavior, twitching and convulsing, and then passing out. When Bob looks in amazement at the tape, he then states "but you didn't actually kill him did you? he's fine.." Gus replies that his mom whom he lives with, told him it would come off more sane if he showed just the tape with the strange behavior, not the death one. Bob says thats probably better, and from there, Gus starts to tell him of a secret military unit he was part of called The New Earth Army, a unit of paranormal soldiers, once under the command of a man named Bill Django, and states that the best of them was a man named Lyn Cassady, who now owns a dance studio. When asked if he could contact either of them, Gus says he's not sure how too anymore. Bill goes back to his office and dismisses the whole thing. Not long after, Bill's wife leaves him for his editor, a one armed bald man who's apparently got a great choke hold, for a guy with one arm. This sends Bill into a depression, he starts drinking and eventually decides, he's gonna get into Iraq and report from there, to prove to his wife and his jackass exboss that he's not a loser, and that he's something and someone. While he's waiting to get into Iraq with all the other press, he starts to draw a pyramid with an eye ontop of it, and then, he meets a person who's name he clearly remembers from Gus' story, Bob meets Lyn Cassady. When Bob asks him if he knows Gus, the power goes out at the hotel where they are, and Lyn disappears, leaving a trail of lights left on behind him. Bob follows, and eventually meets up with him, and explains he's not out to get him and that he met Gus and that he told him of him and the rest of their unit.
Lyn tells Bob that he's there on a secret black ops mission, but will not tell him what it is, when he notices the doodle that Bob had done while in the hotel lobby, Lyn takes out his copy of the manual to the new earth army and shows it to Bob, pointing to the very image that Bob had drawn as it looks in the manual. Lyn decides that its not random chance thats brought him and Bob together, and decides that Bob is like him, he then starts to explain the foundation and formation of The New Earth Army, telling him how it all started with Bill Django when he fell out of a helicopter in Vietnam, and had a vision of clarity when he was shot on the battlefield, and when he recovered, he held a meeting with many high ranking generals, with hopes of one of them backing his concept and allowing him to research his brainchild, among those who attended that day was General Hopgood, a full believer in the paranormal and occult who spends alot of his down time at gatherings and parties about such things, the man that would greenlight Django's trip around the world to discover how to create an army that was non-aggressive and ment as a means of peace through peace with no force or aggression unless there is no other choice, and even then, it being non-lethal force unless there is no other choice. Lyn tells Bob how it took Bill Django 6 years to complete his mission and return with the original copy of the new earth army manual, and to soon start recruiting people from through out the military.
The next day Lyn and Bob set out across the border into Iraq on Lyn's mission, as they drive Lyn tells him more of the new age army, how he started out as a low level officer at Groom Lake/Area 51, and came across General Hopgood when by simply walking by, Lyn caused a whole row of computers to crash with out so much as a touch, he just happened to be near by. When he tells Hopgood, who'd come out to the facility just to talk to him, Hopgood smiles and asks him if he'd like a transfer. Lyn then talks about how not only did he finally feel he fit in with the new earth army, but he's finally found a way to be himself, and how his inner self was freed by Bill Django ordering him to let loose and dance, from that moment on, Lyn loved to dance. Lyn believed in the matra of what the new earth army was all about and quickly began to raise with its ranks as well as become its shining star, after Lyn used remote viewing to locate a kidnapped General, which earned him immense praise for himself, and for the unit as proof that it can work. At this point we flash back to Lyn and Bob in the dessert where they've stopped for the night. Bob starts to put puzzle parts together and starts to believe this is a real thing, after asking Lyn how exactly they were trained for other things, Lyn shows him a non-lethal weapon called The Predator, which has many offensive and defensive applications, but is not really able to use as a death giving weapon, Lyn shows Bob its many applications, much to Bob's dismay and pain.
The next morning, Bob finds Lyn doing his morning yoga and reciting the mantra of the new earth army, a meditative chant ment to focus the mind, body and spirit for all that is to come that day, and to reaffirm their connection to mother earth. As the start to drive again, Lyn starts doing what he calls cloud-bursting, where he claims he can force clouds apart with his mind. While doing this however, Lyn drives straight into the only rock in the middle of the abandoned dessert road they are driving on. As they wait on the side of the road for help, they're picked up by a truck of men who, it turns out, decide to kidnap them and trade them to another small group of terrorists in exchange for someone else, because i guess in the kidnapping world of Iraq americans are higher priced. As Bob and Lyn sit in a make shift cell, Lyn tells Bob of how the end came about for The New Earth Army, he tells him of Larry Hooper, a man General Hopgood met at a spoonbending party and recruited into their ranks, he explains that Larry was the darkside, the sith to their jedis, explaining how he treated all of the rest like they were blew him, and treated Lyn horribly because he was jealous of Lyn's skills that were much more powerful then Larry's. He talks about how Larry would intentionally antagonize the rest, and eventually caused a young private to go crazy trying to recreate the CIA's LSD tests, causing the young man to walk naked into the center of the training grounds at Fort Bragg and start shooting, Bill Django tries to calm him, but the young solider shoots himself through the mouth instead.
this leads to the fall of The New Earth Army, Larry turns on them all in military court omitting his own fault in the incident, when its all over Django is dishonorably discharged and a more standard belief military commander takes over The New Earth Army and turns it back into a regular military unit, even using them as weapons, having Lyn use his power to kill a goat by looking at it. Lyn says how he decided to leave when his tour was over, and didn't look back until he was reactivated. Him and Bob escape using some mental tactics the new earth army used, and as they get out, they encounter a man named Mahmud Dash, who takes them to his house and gives them a car to get on with their mission, a car which soon hits a home made landmine and flips, leaving Lyn and Bob in the middle of nowhere Iraq, Lyn finally breaks down and tells Bob his mission was to find Bill Django, who appeared to him in his trailer and told him to find him. From there, they're lead off into the sands to complete this mission, and in the end, Bob comes home and writes the story of the rise, fall and legacy of the new earth army, which, in typical fashion, is overlooked almost completely.
The film does a good job with what its ment to do, make the stranger then fiction reality fit into a fictional story thats more fact then fiction, sure the characters are all made up and aren't the real one, and some characters are based on the same guy, and sadly there is no real Larry Hooper, insane mentalist douchebag out there in the world, I'd have really liked there to be one, because, come on, real world supervillian... but still, for a fiction thats not fiction story, the film holds together rather well, even if most of it is ment to just set up flashback scenes. The real joy of the film though is the cast, Clooney plays an incredibly insane Lyn Cassady, Jeff Bridges plays a great Bill Django, so good infact he won't get mistaken for Bill Paxton this time, and ofcourse Kevin Spacey proves that he is the master of playing total dickheads as Larry Hooper, and Ewan McGregor plays a believable everyman in Bill, though I personally found the short role of Mahmud Dash played by the under rated Arabic mastor of the theatrical arts Waleed Zuaiter was a great little surprise, though sadly, I doubt many people will know who he is, and well, they should.
So the big question, is it worth watching? Sure, if you have an afternoon to kill and would like a fun and odd story about the insanity of the US Army, its a good way to spend two hours, I would say rent of on demand it though, might not be the kind of thing you want to have in your home collection given that after maybe twice through it seems less and less fun, but still, its a film worth giving a chance. So if you got some time, and wanna see George Clooney rocking a Beiver bowl and a 1970s Oakridge boys mustache, you should give it a shot.
here is the trailer...