Men Who Stare at Goats DVD

Sunday, 25 April 2010 16:17

“Lynn Cassady and Bill Django are based on Sgt Glenn Wheaton and Col Jim Channon, all others are invented or composites.  Do not attempt walking through walls, cloudbursting while driving or staring for hours at goats with the intent of harming them … invisibility is fine.”

So says a statement in the closing credits of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. It is described as a dark comedy, and is directed by Grant Heslov. It has its focus on Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a newspaper reporter who is very loosely based on author of the original book, Jon Ronson. The film’s basis is a curious concoction – Ronson’s original text was a catalogue of real events, with real people encapsulated within it. This movie is sort-of an autobiographical fiction, names being changed and incidents refocused to make it a more coherent tale (apparently). This means it becomes almost a ‘buddy movie’ in its complexion, as Wilton gets to know Lyn Cassady, who claims to be a retired American psychic-spy, trained to be a real life ‘Jedi Knight’!.

The Men Who Stare at Goats DVDGeorge Clooney plays Cassady, the most talented of these psychic warriors, whose performance is just the right side of ‘fruit loop’ for you to suspect that the role really is based on an actual person. Jeff Bridges plays Bill Django, the leader of Cassady’s battalion, a hippie in mindset which makes him ideal for leading this most special of regiments – and also the basis of much of the film’s humour.

Kevin Spacey plays Larry Hooper, an under-achiever within this group, who is jealous of Clooney’s superior psychic firepower, and ends up being seduced by the ‘Dark Side of the Force’, amid many other “Star Wars” references littered throughout the film. Alongside all these, it has to be said that Ewan McGregor’s Wilton comes across as completely overawed by those around him - which sees his Yankie accent slipping now and then - you’d have thought he would have to be a little bit bonkers to follow up such a story, but you don’t get that from Ewan’s performance at all!

The film’s major fault is that it leaves the events as ambiguous, as well as the existence or not of the psychic powers which Cassady and the gang insist they have. With a reality-based backdrop, the assumption of the screenwriter, Peter Straughan, seems to have been that it was safer to lead the audience to assume that the unhinged characters were all on a flight of fantasy, rather than having skills that challenge the consensus view of reality. Perhaps Straughan took his cue from one of his previous screenplays, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”, playing it safe.

As the writer of the original book, Jon Ronson noted, all the bits that are clearly made up, that most outrageously stretch the bounds of credibility, are actually the elements that are true.  Even Ewan McGregor has a view on this, having being quoted as saying “I thought the script was very funny, I just didn't really think that it was true.”

In the early 1970s, American forces did indeed assemble the ‘First Earth Battalion’. Their mission was to take “war out of its state of barbarism and move it up into an area where it became more like management practice”. ‘Remote viewing’, fighting using you ‘aura’, walking through walls, and the killing of goats with a lethal stare, which gave rise to the film’s title, were all part of the skills sets that were being developed. All this is worth taking into account when trying to get a handle on the possible truths that may be within this movie.  It’s certainly worth your investment in the hour and a half run-time. Those who don’t like inherent ambiguity in their viewing will probably consider this film a frustrating experience!

Special features on the DVD include “Goats Declassified” where the soldiers who were the basis of the film get to discuss the movie, a “Project Hollywood” featurette with cast and crew interviews, two audio commentaries (one with Director Grant Heslov, the other with author Jon Ronson), and some deleted scenes. There’s also the Theatrical Trailer and some Character Biographies.

“The Men Who Stare At Goats” is out now with a run time of 94 minutes approx and a ‘15’ certificate. The Blu-ray has an RRP of £24.99, and the DVD £17.99 (limited stocks of both from Amazon have a free copy of Ronson’s book), or get it for less at

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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