Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is a college-student-to-be. His brother Brett (Nick Jonas) already attends the college he is accepted to, and Brett is a member of an elite fraternity on campus as well. Brad, still recovering from a brutal physical assault, is convinced to join the frat, where his ethical patience is severely tested.
Goat has an introduction that is evocative of other movies of its ilk. The “wild life” is in full effect, portrayals of those parties that you never were invited to in college littering the first act. This film takes on odd approach to this, however. Where social problem films addressing youth and collegiate culture will show the vibrant side of the party before revealing the dark underbelly, Goat quickly shows the dark side before returning to the vibrancy before going back to the dark.
It is an approach that confuses not only chronology but character motivation. The way the film begins, it appears as if the film will take a no frills attitude toward the highly volatile culture that it will portray. But it doesn’t fully commit to this until later in the film, even though our protagonist has made an active move to distance himself from what he will eventually join into.
Ignoring the narrative hiccups, the film suffers from an inconsistent style. At times—in two shots and wider—the camera remains static. When the camera pulls in closer than that it becomes an awkward cinema verite. The number of shots in a close-up shot-reverse shot structure that slowly track in is far too high. One scene depicting a simple conversation uses this track in on almost every shot, to a severely clunky effect.
With a movie that is predominately composed of screaming and moaning, it is somewhat difficult to judge the merits of its performances. They don’t hand out Oscars for Best Mud Wrestling Match or Best Beer Shotgun. Still, when the dust settles, there are surprisingly positive performances from the likes of Schnetzer and Jonas. Schnetzer is a young talent, and his performance at least gives us something to root for, even when his character becomes a tool of the plot rather than a rational person. As for James Franco, he is merely set dressing, perhaps added into the script after he jumped on as a producer.
Goat is a movie meant to incite rage and disgust. Without a narrative capable of having something to say beyond its thesis statement, it cannot properly have this effect on any discerning moviegoer. The film lacks a compelling arc; it is a 90-minute assault bookended by what feel like narrative obligations. It is The 120 Days of Sodom with a bro tank and a backwards cap.
There is a problem with Goat at its actual core. The truth of the story becomes subject to sensationalized montages, the scenes that will be remembered in spite of their poor construction. When all is said and done, the film ends with neither resolution nor incentive for resonance once the lights comes up. As important as the issue may be, the filmic equivalency fails to live up to the immediacy of said issue.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)