PLOT: After a brutal assault, Brad Land attempts to reevaluate his life. After a bit of recovery, he decides to pledge at his brothers fraternity. Once he arrives however, he faces a brand new set of violent young men, all in the name of a college “brotherhood.”
REVIEW: GOAT is based on actual events. And unfortunately, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of actions committed all in the name of “brotherhood.” The film also features the very serious case of blaming the victim, especially with what happens to the Ben Schnetzer’s character in the opening sequence. At times vicious, the story follows two brothers, and the ugly side of college life. And boy is this an ugly portrait! While the hazing isn’t necessarily as brutal as you may imagine, it is certainly abhorrent behavior from those looking for an education. The Andrew Neel directed feature film is an eye opening look at the very real abusive behavior found on some college campuses.
When we first meet Brad Land (Schnetzer) and his brother Brett (Nick Jonas), they are having a great time at a college party. After Brad leaves, he comes face to face with a couple of hoodlums who leave him for dead and steal his car and his wallet – partially because of his own naive nature. After trying to deal with the attack, Brad decides to join his brother and go to his school. Once there, he makes the decision to pledge with the same fraternity. During that time he faces a whole new kind of abuse. It is one that is not only degrading, but mentally and physically abusive. Throughout the experience, the two brothers are at odds. All the while Brad is still dealing with the earlier trauma, one that left him emotionally scarred.
Once we see the initial attack on Brad, it is clear that GOAT will be taking some very dark paths. And while the film avoids being too exploitive, there is an extremely uncomfortable way the pledges are treated. The film seemingly at times attempts to convince the audience why joining the fraternity is so important, yet after just a couple rounds of disgusting behavior, I can’t imagine the appeal. As mentioned, the hazing they go through is almost too convincing. Occasionally I had the feeling I was watching some sick prank on YouTube instead of an actual movie. It was honestly quite difficult sympathizing with anybody who didn’t just walk away from the degradation – sort of ironic as the film also explores the mistreatment of Brad from authorities.
With a script by David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts – based on the memoirs of Brad Land – they don’t treat the subject at hand lightly. It also helps that Neel doesn’t shy away from what he presents. If you are looking for an exaggerated look at the horrors of college hazing, you won’t find that here. However, you will find a tense drama that shines a light on the controversial subject. Since it was based on the real Brad Land’s memoir, it is easy to see why he is by far the most sympathetic character in the film. It helps that the opening sequence reveals the problems he faced after being attacked, this includes a detective trying to figure out what Brad did to the two men who nearly killed him. Victim blaming is probably a whole lot more common than we’d expect.
Schnetzer is terrific in the leading role. The actor goes through a series of horrendous events, and he easily disappears into it. While we are rooting for Brad, there are times that we question his own reasoning, and some of his actions. This is a well drawn out character, and the actor is able to capture each of the emotional and torturous experiences he has throughout. As for his co-star, Nick Jonas is very capable of playing Brett. While his role isn’t nearly as complex, he does a nice job as a brother who begins to question the fellow students he associates with. The one major issue that does arise is the casting of James Franco as an older frat brother who comes to visit. The role could have been played by anybody, and it simply seems like a bit of heavy handed stunt casting. Franco adds little to the feature, aside from his name and presence. It’s not a bad performance necessary, just a bit pointless. The second he showed up doing his thing, it immediately took me out of the movie.
GOAT is at times daring, and definitely a bit unnerving. Instead of shining the light on why somebody would be willing to suffer from this kind of situation, it only makes you question what the hell they were thinking. Ben Schnetzer is the real star here. The actor is very convincing as a nice guy forced to face his demons. This is a gutsy film, even if it failed – at least for me – to convince why anybody would want to go through this just to be a part of a frat. And even after they go through some severe pranks, nothing in the film is quite as disturbing as the initial attack on Brad. This timely film does shed some light on a few current collegiate situations, and it’s definitely something worth seeing for anybody dealing with going away to a university. Of course, if you are sending a child off to college, this may be the most frightening movie of the year.