It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Bear with me here. Imagine "Ghostbusters" is based on a true story. Imagine the Dude from "The Big Lebowski" as a real-life U.S. Army general. All factual, right? That's what "The Men Who Stare at Goats" sort of wants us to believe. I think I sort of do -- to a small degree, sort of. "More of this is true than you would believe," the movie announces in an opening title. I'm waiting for the review of this one in Skeptic magazine.
We begin with a newspaperman named Wilton (Ewan McGregor) from Ann Arbor. That's a poignant note, because Ann Arbor recently lost its daily newspaper. He interviews a goof who tells him he was a member of the New Earth Army, a super-secret Army team of paranormals who were being trained as stealth weapons. In theory, they could spy at a distance, kill by the power of their sight alone and penetrate enemy lines in spirit, not in body.
Wilton hungers to hunt where the headlines are. In 2002, he flies to Kuwait, hoping to cross into the war zone. He runs into a legendary guy he heard about from the crackpot back home. This is Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), said to be the best of the New Earth trainees. Wilton pumps him and learns of an acidhead Vietnam veteran named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who sold the Army the notion of fighting men who could transcend physical limitations. We see Django in flashbacks; Bridges essentially plays him as the Dude in "The Big Lebowski." Members of the Church of Lebowski will be able to enjoy this film as apocrypha.
The movie flashes between the recent Middle East and events 20 years earlier, when Cassady trained under Django to become, he explains, a Jedi Warrior. Clooney doesn't overplay and is persuasive, making Cassady as a sensible, sane man who has seen the impossible and has no choice but to believe it. He shows Wilton videos of a goat and a hamster killed by brain power. In theory, mind power can even allow men to run through walls -- if, of course, they believe they can.