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‘Goat’ (review)

goat-new-poster-1467907975Produced by James Franco, David Hinojosa,
Vince Jolivette, Christine Vachon
Screenplay by David Gordon Green,
Andrew Neel, Mike Roberts
Based on Goat by Brad Land
Directed by Andrew Neel
Starring Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Gus Halper,
Danny Flaherty, Jake Picking. Virginia Gardner,
Austin Lyon, James Franco

The tagline for Andrew Neel’s newest film Goat reads “cruelty, brutality, fraternity,” and he doesn’t shy away from showing cruelty and brutality in gory detail.

Unfortunately because we know this film is based on actual events, and adapted from the controversial 2004 memoir by Brad Land, we also know what it means by “fraternity.”  The film is clearly set on undoing the typical played-for-laughs approach of Greek life by Hollywood.

As with the book, Goat is an eye-opening, and ultimately depressing first-hand look inside some very ugly truths not only about the very worst of frat hazing, but of the darker origins of shared machismo.

The film’s first half hour is focused on establishing Brad Land’s poor self-esteem, having lived in the shadow of his real-life brother Brett (played by Nick Jonas).  Upon leaving a typical party that’s not his scene, he’s brutally assaulted by two men.  When the police initially reject his story of the crime, Brad decides to get tough, go to his brother’s school and pledge his Phi Sigma Mu (the fictionalized Kappa Sigma) fraternity.

This is more set up than I would have expected from the film for Brad, and I actually think it’s one of the stronger decisions screenwriters David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, and Mike Roberts come up with.  They know that the next hour of the film will be a series of violent and despicable actions and events, leading up to a climax that, once again, made hazing a topic of news in the US.

Up and coming British actor Ben Schnetzer is fantastic in the lead role of Brad, and he has to be since the camera is often solely fixed on his face from bruised and beaten, to bold and brave.  You might not often feel for Brad’s poor choices, but you’ll have a deeper understanding of where they’re coming from, and that’s all on the subtlety of Schnetzer’s performance.

Unfortunately the film makes a few poor choices of its own, the most egregious being a walk-on cameo from James Franco as Mitch, one of the frat’s living legends.  Franco’s character is played for laughs, and after seeing the trailer for Why Him? this past weekend, I’d say he’s on the brink of going becoming this generation’s Christopher Walken.

It’s possible that Mitch is a cautionary character, but the film already has enough displays of racism, sexism, and homophobia for the audience to understand these are not boys with exemplary judgement skills.  Worse yet, most of them are probably CEOs of Fortune 500s right now.  We get who they are and who they’re going to become, thank you very much Mr. Franco you can go home now.

Ultimately at just over 90 minutes, the film’s exhaustingly graphic.  A true horror film for any parents of college Freshman this September.  The camera lingers when you wish it wouldn’t, the puke is just a tad too real, and then of course there’s that goat.  That poor, poor goat.

goat

When the on-screen brotherhood traditions and rite of passage turn into criminal actions, you be on brother Brett’s side asking, “what’s the point?”  Will this film be the turning point that puts an end to college hazing rituals?  Probably not.  Tales of fraternity suspension and investigations continue to hit the headlines each semester.

Fortunately, the film retains the book’s strong narrative of personal redemption.  After we cringe at Brad’s misguided search for masculine affirmation, and witness his darkest nature, getting to his emotional liberation makes it worth the watch.

Goat opens today in select cinemas, on demand and digital HD.

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