May 6, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Men Who Stare at Goats

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Today's movie: The Men Who Stare at Goats, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this inventive comedy got quite a bit of attention last year, which got me curious about it in general; plus it stars (among others) Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, all of whom can generally be relied on when it comes to the quality of their film choices.

The reality: Surprisingly hilarious, and also surprisingly chilling. Because for those who don't know, this movie is loosely based on a series of true stories from the American military, starting with the fact that in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan tried putting together an army of "super soldiers" with psychic abilities, led by a Vietnam vet now burned-out New Ager named Bill Django (Daniels) who believed that the future of the American military was to be as the stoppers of armed conflicts instead of the instigators of them. This entire first story, then, is told through flashbacks during interviews between one of Django's finest psychic soldiers, the absolutely batsh-t Lyn Cassady (Clooney), and reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor), as both are in Iraq in the early 2000s for George Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" debacle there, the two making their way through a series of comic misadventures as they journey to the heart of a mysterious compound that Cassady feels compelled to visit.

And that's where the chilling part of this movie comes in, the part the film's marketers didn't even hint at in this movie's goofy commercials; because it turns out that Bush actually reactivated this psychic wing of the army after September 11th, only this time headed by a much more reasonable if not evil former participant named Larry Hooper (Spacey), who largely dropped the metaphysical elements of the program the second time around, in order to instead concentrate on the various ways the US military could do the most psychological damage to its enemies. And it's that, the film claims, that led to the worst of the borderline-torture practices that are now such a shameful legacy of the Bush years, the waterboarding and the naked homosexual posing, the blaring of the "Barney" theme song for 24 hours straight while constantly flashing a strobe light at prisoners, and all the other crazy stuff that's since come out about what a bunch of clever, weasely Nazis we Americans became in the wake of 9/11.

That makes the film both a comedy and a tragedy, which is fascinating just on its own; and in the meanwhile, not only this talented cast (which also includes Robert Patrick, Stephen Root, and Avatar bad guy Stephen Lang) but also director Grant Heslov (a newbie director but veteran Hollywood actor) display a kind of almost perfect comedic timing in this film as well, an impeccable pacing to the jokes that I haven't seen in the movies in a long, long time. Much funnier than I was expecting, but with a creepily dramatic point I didn't see coming, The Men Who Stare at Goats this week officially becomes my favorite film of 2009, and it comes highly, highly recommended to everyone out there.

Strangest piece of trivia: Not a single female speaks out loud on-screen in this movie.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:39 AM, May 6, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |