Say hi to my new guest blogger Yalin! Born and bred in Istanbul, matured (mostly) in the US and now London-based, Yalin is going to giving us the northern hemisphere scoop on upcoming movies before they’re released in Australia. Yalin’s a movie buff who used to write long term papers during university on the characters or themes found in French New Wave cinema of the 60s. He now review films regularly when he’s not reading about screen writing, directing, cinematography or the use of cinema as a subversive art form. Thanks Yalin!
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If someone told you that the US military had approved a special unit to train psychic soldiers in the 80s and tested their effectiveness on goats, would you believe them? Grant Heslov’s feature, The Men Who Stare at Goats, cautions the viewer at first sight by warning that more of the film than what we think is real.
This quirky comedy revolves around Bob Wilton, an emasculated reporter from small-town America, who is thrown into Iraq with an American army jedi (that’s what the film calls them) looking for a target whose destination isn’t known. The storyline is an obvious symbolism for the reporter’s life. Not only does he feel like he is going nowhere in life, but to add insult to injury, his wife leaves him for his manager, an older man with a prosthetic arm. In order to regain control of his life, his unknown destiny and of course his masculinity, he goes after the only goal he can come up with; to impress his wife and get her back. Hence he makes his way to Kuwait to become a war reporter as that’s what he thinks will prove he’s not frail or weak. His plan fails miserably as it has no effect on the wife, but the force calls for him, pun intended. A chance encounter with a jedi takes him into Iraq where he learns to respect the ways of the jedi in the American army, which results in his personal salvation.
The film follows a linear pattern of Wilton’s adventures in Iraq with flashbacks to reveal the history of the jedi and the New Earth Army. The unconventional army is built upon hippie agenda where love and tolerance is expected to win over war and violence. As such, the training involves unorthodox measures and exercises. It’s these scenes that really make the viewer think over and over again: how much of this is real? The army’s history not only provides a backdrop for the characters that we are following, but also ties in nicely to the overall story at the end. It also acts as a springboard for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, which is hard to achieve for a film that deals with staring contests against goats.
Goats aside, the acting is superb and the writing polished. George Clooney does an incredible job as Lyn Cassady, the most talented jedi ever to train in the New Earth Army. His performance sits on the boundary of real and joking, where the character can really only exist. Impeccable writing complements the acting with some very witty voice-overs from Ewan McGregor. Kevin Spacey’s antagonist is a worthy adversary in our capitalist world.
For a film that’s so quirky, The Men Who Stare at Goats achieves a level of realism that most dramas can’t, and as such, deserves to be seen.