The Men Who Stare at Goats, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, screenplay by Peter Straughan, adapted from a book by Jon Ronson, and directed by Grant Heslov.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00xhf50/the-men-who-stare-at-goats

In many ways this is George Clooney’s creation. He’s listed as one of the producers. Producers are the guys (and it is usually men) who get the money together to make a movie. Because he’s George Clooney he can do that kind of thing. Other people will fling money at him, because it’s a no-lose situation, a film starring George Clooney is bound to make money, and if it’s any good, it’ll make a lot of money, but the stars need to be aligned.

George Clooney stars with different haircuts and uniforms, but the same sugary smile he’s perfected over the years. His character Lyn Skip Cassady is ex-American army, and there are flashbacks to the time when the US military set up a shadowy organisation to create psychic warriors and conquer hearts and minds by making love, not war. Army maverick Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) led them to places they couldn’t have dreamed. Bridges re-jigs his role as The Dude, but in army military bases.  But The Men Who Stare at Goats is much more fun than The Big Lebowski. I laughed  aloud several times, and that doesn’t usually happen unless an old woman falls in front of a truck after jumping over a skipping rope.

We know all this because Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) tells us about his journey with Cassady on the road to enlightenment in an Iraq that is being liberated or conquered by American troops (depending on your point of view). There’s the realist tone Umberto Eco adopts in his masterpiece Foucault’s Pendulum with the ridiculous rubbing shoulders with reality. Cassady regrets, for example, under military orders letting his ego run wild, staring at a goat and stopping its heart. He admits that it might just have been coincidence, him staring and the bleating animal’s heart stopping, but he doesn’t believe in coincidences.

Cassady’s mission is so hush-hush, he’s not even sure what it is himself. He needs to find his former guru, The Dudeless Bill Django in a desert without road signs. The right road is often the wrong road as they are taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists. But that’s a mere blip in Cassady’s inner radar, as Bob Wilton makes the inner journey from sceptic to true believer.

Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is our Judas and nemesis of free-love and free-wheeling Django and Cassady in the military and world at large. (This was before Spacey was publically shamed, some would see that as proof of the dark side. Other examples being the large numbers of cast members that died in strange circumstance after making The Omen).

Whatever—this is a great and fun movie. George Clooney has never been better as George Clooney, Ewan McGregor even gets in on the act. Well worth watching for Dude-less fans. Try it.

James Bulger: A Mother’s Story , ITV 9pm. The Bulger Killers: Was Justice Done, Channel 4, 9pm.

bulguer killers.jpg

The Bulger Killers: Was Justice Done?

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-bulger-killers-was-justice-done/on-demand/66601-001

James Bulger: A Mother’s Story

https://www.itv.com/hub/james-bulger-a-mothers-story/2a5514a0001

I watched both of these programmes. We know what happened. Twenty-five years ago, when Tony Blair was Shadow Home Secretary, ten-year-old  Robert Thompson and Jon Venables took toddler James Bulger from a shopping centre in Liverpool to a railway track near their home and killed him.  CCTV images showed them taking James Bulger. They were quickly tracked down and caught. Tape recording of police interviews of Venables and Thompson were used in both programmes, but in James Bulger: A Mother’s Story these same tapes were given subtitles and the parts of the interviewing officers and suspects were re-recorded by actors. For what purpose, I’m not quite sure. The actors sound like ten-year old Liverpudlian boys denying, crying, trying to put the blame on each other and then admitting their guilt.

There’s no doubt ITV’s production takes seniority. Sir Trevor McDonald fresh from interviewing inmates on death row in America is sent to talk intimately with the mother of the James Bulger. ‘All I want is justice’ is what she says.

Both Thompson and Venables are out of prison and have been given new identities in 2010, but by 2017 Venables was back inside, found guilty of downloading and distributing child pornography.

The presiding judge when finding Thompson and Venables guilty of killing James Bulger labelled they ‘evil’. Look at the footage of grown men attacking the police van when they were taken to court. Police officers were unanimous in their verdict and Sir Richard Henriquies Queen’s Counsel for the prosecution at that time looks back at the case and tells us they knew the difference between right and wrong.

Subtext, there’s ten-year old boys and there’s this pair. Albert Kidd a senior investigating officer called them devils. Damien out of The Omen was another officer’s viewpoint.

One of the moderating voices in both programmes was journalist and author Blake Morrison. He reasoned if immature ten-year boys could be tried for the crime of murder, then juries could also be made up of ten-year olds. A moral panic whipped by Kevin McKenna at The Sun called for justice to be done. Cut-out tabs could be sent from the reader to their MP demanding justice. Over a million signatures were collected denouncing the lenient sentence given to the child murderers. It was doubled by the Home Secretary, but it still wasn’t enough. Albert Kidd said he went to interview Venables at a secure children’s home and they had duvets and TV.

Justice is another word for hanging, beating, whipping, slapping and getting what’s coming to them. Venables should not have had the luxury of a duvet on his bed. He should have been in a dark dungeon with water dripping onto his forehead, dirty water and rats gnawing his feet.

James Bulger’s mum has a right to call for this kind of justice. But to pander to the lowest common denominator demonises not the villains but ourselves. The Bulger killing on 18th February 1993 was not an accident, but it was a tragedy.

The following year two six-year old boys killed a five-year old girl.  No one called them devils. They continued with kindergarten education and their identity was protected. This was Trondheim, in Norway. No further reports of these kids re offending have reached us. Children in Scandinavian countries are different, of course, because they’re not born evil. Happy is a world that does not need heroes. God save us.  Happy a world that does not need devils.