The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - THE LINE | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - THE LINE

Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - THE LINE
Tensions escalate at a prestigious fraternity during pledge week.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ethan Berger

Starring: Alex Wolff, Lewis Pullman, Halle Bailey, Austin Abrams, Angus Cloud, Scoot McNairy, John Malkovich, Bo Mitchell, Denise Richards

The American collegiate traditions of sororities and fraternities have fuelled many a motion picture. Strangely, American cinema has largely taken a very different approach to each. Movies about sororities have overwhelmingly tended to fall into the horror and thriller genres, focussing on mean girl archetypes, while those centred on fraternities are usually comedies, populated by horny, hard-drinking goofballs. Director Ethan Berger's The Line is a rare college thriller set not in a sorority but fraternity house.

Tom Backster (Alex Wolff) is a sophomore at a Southern university who has risen through the ranks of the institution's top fraternity, KNA, despite his relatively humble roots. While his fraternity brothers are the sons of politicians and tycoons, Tom comes from a modest single parent home. He seems to have been accepted into KNA largely due to his friendship with Mitch Miller (Bo Mitchell), an obnoxious oaf whose father (John Malkovich) wields considerable power (enough to land a trophy wife played by Denise Richards).

The Line review

Tom is taken under the wing of KNA president Todd (Lewis Pullman in a role far from the nerdy types he's become known for), who puts him in charge of pledge week when he has to leave town. This means Tom is required to oversee the various hazing rituals that will decide which freshmen are accepted into KNA. Tom's loyalty to Mitch is tested when the latter makes an enemy of Gettys (Austin Abrams), a cocky freshman who seems to revel in pushing Mitch's buttons.

As the loathsome but ultimately pathetic Mitch, Mitchell delivers a gripping performance. Initially he channels John Belushi with his drunken frat boy antics, but increasingly he comes to resemble Vincent D'Onofrio's troubled grunt in Full Metal Jacket, right down to adopting that memorably creepy thousand yard stare. There are other allusions to Kubrick's film, from the drill instructor-esque bullying of the freshmen, who are even made to shave their heads, to how Tom echoes the character played by Matthew Modine in adopting a persona just to get through the experience. Wolff is very good in the role, and a quick glance at his Wikipedia page tells you his own background isn't too dissimilar from the sort of privileged young men who populate elite fraternities like KNA. But with his Jewish background, he's not exactly a poster boy for the Aryan race, which makes it a little difficult to buy him being accepted into this WASPy institution, particularly when we see freshmen being rejected for being "too dark."

The Line review

If Wolff's casting is a case of colourblind ignorance, the same can't said for African-American actress Halle Bailey. She plays Annabelle, a fellow student Tom falls for. Bailey is under-served as a character who seems to exist solely to add a layer of empathy to Tom. Hey, if he's willing to date a black girl he can't be all bad, right? Yikes! Annabelle is initially portrayed as being too clever to fall for Tom's practiced charms, not to mention repelled by his fraternity, so it's difficult to believe their subsequent relationship.

For the most part, The Line is a drama about the lengths people will go to in order to fit in with those they really have little in common with. And thanks largely to some captivating performances, it works as such. Late on however, the movie enters thriller territory and begins to flounder. What screenwriting gurus call the inciting incident occurs so late in the narrative that the film never really has the space to reconcile with its implications. It does however result in a final scene that features a quietly devastating piece of underplayed acting from Mitchell, who is the real graduate of note from this particular class.

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