When the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction; the Script May Sound Far-Fetched but George Clooney's New Film, the Men Who Stare at Goats, Is Based on a Welsh Writer's Book about Real-Life Military, as Rob Driscoll Discovers
Byline: George Clooney
GEORGE Clooney's latest movie features Iraq-based American "super-soldiers" with incredible psychic powers, apparently giving them the ability to walk through walls, become invisible - and stare at goats until they keel over and die.
Another far-fetched, comic-strip super-hero blockbuster? And the product of a wild Hollywood screenwriter's crazy, unleashed imagination? Not quite. The Men Who Stare At Goats may be a quirky and frequently hilarious off-the-wall comedy, but it's amazingly based on fact. You only have to ask Cardiff-born journalist Jon Ronson, who wrote the non-fiction book on which the screenplay is based, to discover that, in this particular instance, the truth really is stranger than fiction.
"I met all of them," says 42-year-old Ronson about the secret army of New Age warriors bankrolled by the US government to develop successful methods of extreme combat using only their minds.
"They were a group of military men, some highly placed, who desperately wanted to learn paranormal abilities. They really did try to walk through walls and become invisible. They practiced greeting the enemy with 'sparkly eyes,' and eventually, at Fort Bragg, when the ideas turned darker, they tried to kill goats just by staring at them."
Now, Ronson's best-selling book has become the stuff of dreams; it's a glossy, star-packed Hollywood movie featuring the likes of Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Ewan McGregor. The Men Who Stare At Goats is the Welsh writer's third book, after Club Class, a travelogue in which he bluffs his way into a jet-set lifestyle, and Them: Adventures with Extremists, an investigative account of his experiences with people like David Icke and Ian Paisley. But was he ever nervous about what Hollywood might do to one of his labours of love? "Not at all," he smiles. "Just when I was selling it, Nick Hornby told me, 'Don't interfere, because they know how to make films, and we don't.' So I didn't interfere, and I read Peter Straughan's script, and I thought it was completely brilliant. Then when I heard that George Clooney, as star and producer, and Grant Heslov (the director) were making it, that was obviously incredibly exciting, so I was never nervous at all. It wasn't my film, so it was an easy ride for me; I watched it as an audience member and really loved it."
In the film, Ronson is effectively played by McGregor, in all but name. His character, Bob Wilton, encounters Lyn Cassady (Clooney), who claims to be part of an experimental US military unit. According to Cassady, the New Earth Army is changing the way wars are fought. A legion of "warrior monks" with unparalleled psychic powers can read the enemy's thoughts, pass through solid walls, and even stare a goat to its death. Now, the programme's founder Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) has gone missing.
Intrigued by his new buddy's hard-to-credit stories, Wilton decides to tag along. When the pair track Django to a clandestine training camp run by renegade psychic Larry Hooper (Spacey), the reporter is trapped in the middle of a grudge match between the forces of Django's New Earth Army and Hooper's personal militia of super soldiers. …