By Adam Ray Palmer
Cineroom’s third review of the 66th Berlin Festival campaign is the Andrew Neel picture Goat.
This film debuted a few weeks back at Sundance receiving mix to positive reviews so I definitely had a good feeling going into the theatre.
Ben Schnetzer stars as Nick Jonas supports in this uneasy college movie as Nick distances himself even further away from the Disney lark…
Goat is centred around Brad (Ben Schnetzer) who is reeling from a terrifying assault. The 19-year-old enrols into college with his brother and pledges the same fraternity. What happens there, in the name of "brotherhood" tests Brad and his loyalty to his brother in brutal ways.
The film begins with Brad and his brother Brett (Jonas) at a college frat party. When Brad leaves early, he gets mixed up in taking two lads home who stated they were at the party. They were of course not, and a beating ensues with his car being stolen. Neel makes a point of this early scene to give the narrative a back drop. This life-impacting sequence that Brad encounters makes him fragile and therefore longing for security – the fraternity can offer that.
From here on in, Neel explores masculinity issues against the sense of belonging with the major anchor being the fraternity. This movie is different to other ‘frat films’ I have seen because of the context Andrew emphasises. Yes, there is loads of drugs and alcohol, but the characters do this for other reasons than just partying. It’s a sense of togetherness, bravado and ultimately who owns the roost and who is a goat (a term used for newcomers/rookies).
In this instance, Brad along with 5 others, are the goats. Based on the memoir by Brad Land, the film definitely seems autobiographical with the tense scenes feeling really intimate and authentic. The goats must endure ‘Hell Week’ which consists of grotesque challenges and emotionally scarring events – physical ones too. This is where the actors come into their own.
Ben Schnetzer delivers a glowing performance and will surely be a name for the future. He has had praising performances in Pride, The Book Thief and The Riot Club with his Goat shift just adding to his impressive resume. Ben is impressive with a task that would challenge any actor. The subtle sighs and angst which make up his character are brilliant touches. It’s a memorable performance. Nick Jonas also deserves plaudits as what seems like a veteran supporting role. He has starred in many screen outings but nothing as brutal as this yet. He backs Ben’s performance measuredly. Let’s not forget, there’s also a fantastic James Franco cameo that will have everyone in the room laughing.
The screenplay is where Goat has had a bit of bashing and for reasons I am unsure about. Neel has explored issues of masculinity that have been touched on so many times before, but what Andrew does is give it another dimension. He makes the smart decision to strip the movie of any authority figures until the very end when it is needed. It makes the film, and the characters, feel incredibly lonely and it adds intensity to the movie. The film has very little nudity for a frat picture and once again I think that should be applauded. Neel has explored masculinity with falling down at the first hurdle with obvious scenes he could have included.
The writing is sharp and thought-provoking. Brad’s roommate Will comments “the only thing worse than enduring the torture of pledging is the social stigma of being known as a guy who couldn’t take it” – this line clearly has a past in Brad Land’s memoir.
I think Neel delivers on the whole. When the plot is unoriginal as many frat movies endure the same nonsense, he ramps up the experience to give that added hook. It’s addictive, even with the tougher scenes. You don’t want to watch the gruelling efforts of the frat boys as they partake in challenges and puke everywhere - but you just can’t take your eyes away from it. The best film yet for me in Berlin.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Goat is yet to receive distribution rights in the UK, so catch it if you can!