Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Directed By: Andrew Neel
Written By: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel & Mike Roberts
Based on the book by: Brad Land
Cinematography By: Ethan Palmer
Editor: Brad Turner
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Gus Halper, Danny Flaherty, Nick Jonas, James Franco, Jake Picking
Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19 year-old enrolls into college with his brother and pledges the same fraternity. What happens there, in the name of "brotherhood," tests him and his loyalty to his brother in brutal ways. Based on Brad Land’s experiences transferring to Clemson University after being brutally beaten and assaulted, pledging with his "golden boy" brother to Kappa Sigma.
Now going into this i knew I would be critical more then usual as I have read the book and quite enjoyed it and remember when it was supposed to be made into a film by director David Gordon Green and then it was never mentioned. Until all of a sudden this film was playing at the Sundance film festival and my interest was peaked. Especially when I found out it was directed by Andrew Neel. Whose film KING KELLY, I quite enjoyed.
Now the results or at least how I saw the film is that it is successful. Though it seems to lack a fragileness and sensitivity that the book had. It also doesn't feel as personal.
The main character does come across as nicer than most that we meet throughout the film. As we notice he is more of a good guy. Leaving a frat party immediately once drugs and illicit sex is introduced only to be a victim of a random beating all for being nice. Even when he should have known better. The film shows that through his recovery he is trying to go back to who he was even showing a little more bravery by kissing and hitting on a girl who he knows has a boyfriend. Though shows his true colors when he hooks up with a girl at a party and during a sure thing. Let's out his true feelings through vulnerability which immediately stops the action. As it is a wake up call that even though this girl is willing to be intimate with him. It wakes her up that she doesn't even know his name and how a younger generation wants truth but seems to fear intimacy. Even if only momentarily.
Ben Schnetzer performance is very passive and non reactionary so that it seems more vacant. Rather than lived in. Which you can understand as the character feels more like a ghost after his attack and this might be trying to take his identity back. It's an interesting befit performance. As he is a character dealing with PTSD and this film shows a different way than we are used to seeing. So that it seems to be a more masochistic way of dealing with it. As the hazing offers physical challenges, it seems more psychological torture. That definitely take a toll.
Though what is frustrating is that just like in the book. The main character is so passive it is difficult to really garner anything off of him. It might be how it happened in real life but on film it feels uninformed. Which usually allows the audience to put any belief they want in there, but here it just feels bare
Which is what this film breaks down to. It seeks to try to observe and explain to a degree why men would put themselves through this hazing. Not only for the perks, but to have a sense of where they belong to be apart of a brotherhood that supports one another. Maybe even to challenge themselves to show what they can do even if they have to push themselves to the limit.
The film gives us glimpses of that it seems to never go In For the kill. It just lets these things happen in random fashion. That feels disjointed instead of matter of fact. So that leaves us with so many more questions.
Even if the film was supposed to be a character study. The character barely let's us in or does anything so what we know what is shaping his emotions or decisions. He seems blank and then reacts. Half the time his behavior especially in the second half is righteous bit would obviously have gotten him kicked out.
The beginning of the film shows promise in what looks like a scene to express the testosterone and extremity the rest of the film will explore. Though we do see the horrendous acts they are forced to complete. It doesn't seem as strong as it should be.
As the film decides not to glamorize it. Nor does it make it too exploitive. Even though the film does have a misogynistic nature. Which you would expect in a film about frat houses. Though maybe it doesn't explain it out right. But the film barely had any female characters and the few that it does are random and usually getting naked or in a sex scene or a morning after conquest. The film has nothing to say about them so they remain ornaments more then anything.
James Franco has an interesting and intense cameo. Where he seems to be here to show what happens to these guys once they graduate, but still have the same mindset. That this is the best years of their lives. Though he does add ridiculous energy and legitimizes the film a bit. Nick Jonas also gives a strong performance as his older brother in the fraternity. As he is trying to look out for his brother, but also trying to stay loyal to the fraternity and it's rules. It also allows him to show off his well Sculpted body once again. It is also one of his better roles in movies. That doesn't rest purely on his shoulders in the lead or for star power.
Maybe as the film decides not to be specific. It loses any power it wants to have and makes it seem more random. A late development of plot seems to be that the film just needed an ending and how impersonal and random. Where it is supposed to be about brotherhood, but can be all about itself very easily.
Though that late element is strong emotionally for the audience. It truly allows the film to finally show that the pledges are individuals not just faces that blend together. Even though that character the film has already introduced and taken particular time with us getting to know him.
Why do these young men put themselves through this honor, glory to prove themselves to one another and Those who judge them. It might also be that the main character wishes to gain strength and feel a certain machines back.
The film's strength is sometimes in Non- specifications. It shows more a smaller college life. Not a major university where everything is grand and fears not important. At this college you practically need to be in one to survive or st least have a social Life and be able to drink and helps you with the opposite sex.
At first it tries to make the characters more three dimensional but by the end half come off as typical dude bro villains. Though ones we partially care about only because earlier we saw some humanity and personal emotions from them.
The film never presents the parallel where the senseless violent stack he survived from strangers and the seemingly senses less violence he must participate in to belong to his brothers. Can be viewed the same random and seems more there just for the jollies of watching someone else suffer and making it ok in the end by saying I had to do that to make you tougher and make sure you belong.
Though it makes the brothers look. Roe sadistic as they know the history of his attack and seem to want to add violence to his hazing more and more. As they might see it as something to help him overcome it and toughen it up. It comes across as cruel and intentional. Though the film never explains it. Though by and large the feel for all the action that happens. Feels like it is continuously in a daze. It feels non-specific and seemingly random along with being no frills. Though I believe the film is passable. It seems to lack the power it could have been as an emotional journey or as more of a look at traditions.
I am not saying the film is bad. It is entertaining it just mostly doesn't offer anything new about it's subjects and feels like business as usual for the most part, but when it is different it is special and a doorway into what it could have been.
Maybe I am taking the subject matter personally as something similar happened to me though thankfully not as bad. Though by the end of the film when he makes an important choice at the police station. I truly understood and could really emote with the scene. Having someone's fate in your hand.
Though what the film misses is never really showing the rush or benefits of hazing. If anything it more tells than shows. Strangely by the end it almost seems like this experience has given him newfound bravery and strength than he had before the attack.