Ewan McGregor plays Bob, a disillusioned newspaper journalist who, following his divorce goes to Iraq in search of a story, a goal and something to believe in. It is here he meets Lyn Cassady played by George Clooney who begins to tell the story of how he and other soldiers were involved in a secret military operation to create psychic soldiers. Bob is inadvertently swept up into Lyn’s current secret mission to find a hidden military installation in the Iraqi desert by means of “remote viewing”. Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges co-star in this voyage of discovery that, I guarantee isn’t what you’re expecting.
Nothing about this movie is conventional. From the way it begins, to the characters, to the dialogue to the way that past and present plot lines occur in tandem, often sharing undertones and situations. Over all, however I found this unusual take on a military memoir to be really refreshing. The movie suggests that more of the story is true than you might think although it never indicates just how much that might be. While some movies have used this device to their detriment, The Men Who Stare at Goats utilises it to fantastic effect. You find yourself at many times thinking “Well that couldn’t have happened… right? Well, I suppose it could have…” and this just goes to make the movie all the more fun and the characters all the more easy to relate too. A good job then as the main characters in the story are some of the weirdest to ever hit the big screen.
While McGregor and Clooney both perform more than admirably, the undeniable star of the show is Jeff Bridges as New Earth Army commander Bill Django, a Vietnam war vet who had his eyes opened to the spiritual and paranormal through the combination of a near death experience and several years of heavy drug use. The character is more than reminiscent of what I consider to be Bridges’ best role to date, The Dude from The Big Lebowski. The two characters share the same hippy appearance and hilarious care-free attitude that Bridges acts like nobody else can.
Outstanding performances are contrasted, however, by the relatively inexperienced (Some TV work and just 4 movies) director’s slightly un-matured style. Certain scenes lacked the punch that they could have delivered and at times I found myself fidgeting through periods where seemingly very little happened. There were also parts where the storytelling wasn’t quite what it could have been. Some scenes that could have been further explored were cut short and others that should have been brief weighed in a little too long. The comedic side of the movie is clearly influenced by the Coen brothers (most likely an influence brought in by both Clooney and Bridges who have both worked with the acclaimed filmmakers in the past.) but this again lacks their subtlety and flawless delivery and as such will only raise a scant few real laughs.
Over all, I enjoyed the movie although it took me a few hours to really realise it. My friend Rick Nunn can testify to this as we walked out of the screening with the same “I think I enjoyed it…” sentiments. I can say with some certainty that if you’re a fan of the Coen Brothers’ more dry and subtle stuff such as Fargo, and O, Brother Where art Thou you should enjoy this one too. Bridges and Clooney have carried it through to an understated, yet clear victory.