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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Men Who Stare at Goats

Strangers in a very strange land

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 12, 2009 -- Besides having the best movie title of the year, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is a funny, heartwarming tale of outsiders in society who find peace, love, understanding and a sense of belonging in the U.S. Army of all places. It involves a new-age Army unit guided by an ex-hippie, training for remote viewing, invisibility, telekinesis, telepathy, peace, love, dancing and being in harmony with the universe. These soldiers see themselves as Jedi warriors. According to the film more of this story is true than you could possibly believe, and that is probably true. The story seems like a fable, but is based on a non-fiction book by Jon Ronson (or is it really Ron Johnson?).

Ewan McGregor of the “Star Wars” movies, stars as Bob Wilton (loosely based on Jon Ronson himself), a journalist whose wife leaves him for another man, with one arm. Wilton, feeling the need to show his manliness to his ex-wife, quits the newspaper and goes off to cover the Iraq War. In Kuwait he runs across one of these Jedi warriors, Lyn Cassady (played by George Clooney of the “Ocean's 11” series of movies). Wilton recognized Cassady's name from an interview he once did with another former Jedi warrior. Through a kind of psychic connection, Cassady takes Wilton on as a kind of apprentice and the two head off across the border into Iraq. Along the way, Cassady tells Wilton of the incredible story of “The First Earth Battalion” formed in the Army under the leadership of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges of “Iron Man”). Django's vision was to develop “super soldiers” who could walk through walls, read minds, and find missing people through remote viewing and affect people and objects through telekinesis. Django's idea was to actually prevent violence by using these super powers.

Wilton, of course, thinks Cassady is crazy, but is interested enough, and desperate enough, to go along for the ride into a war zone. Cassady believes he is on a mission. As their adventures continue, Wilton eventually finds himself caught up in the Cassady's First Earth Battalion ideas and becomes a convert. Cassady and Wilton end up at a secret military installation in Iraq headed up by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey of “Superman Returns”). Hooper, once a member of the First Earth Battalion, has taken over the Battalion and converted it to his own evil plans, including the torture of Iraqi prisoners of war. Bill Django is also there, but seems to be a shell of his former self, disillusioned by the way his ideals have been subverted. When Cassady sees what has become of Django, he becomes depressed. It is up to the new convert, Wilton, to restore the ideals of the Battalion and revive both Django and his mentor, Cassady, and rescue them from the evil clutches of Hooper.

In a sense, this film is like a rewriting of history in which good old American values prevail. Americans are not the kind of people who torture and kill prisoners of war. In this film, the good guys win, even if it is just a minor victory in a big war. In the real Iraq war, people of less principle prevailed far too often. This film is a nice little fantasy, somewhat reminiscent of Robert Altman's classic film about war, “MASH” or the 1966 cult classic, “Le roi de coeur” (King of Hearts). In all three of these films the same thing happens: In the middle of a war the lunatics take over the asylum and sanity is restored, at least for a brief time. This story, like those others, is a myth, but it is pleasant, gentle and funny. Like all myths, it reveals certain truths. This is a good first feature film by Grant Heslov, better known for his memorable acting roles in films such as “True Lies” and “Dante's Peak.” This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)