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by Indiewire
January 26, 2008 5:34 AM
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PARK CITY '08 REVIEW | Cat's Out of the Bag: David and Nathan Zellner's "Goliath"

A scene from David and Nathan Zellner's "Goliath." Photo courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

"Goliath," co-directed by brothers David and Nathan Zellner, is an experimental film in appearance, tempo and most importantly spirit. Its tale, about a sad sack of a man (David Zellner) searching for his beloved lost cat Goliath, is something chancy filmmaker Harmony Korine would love. Yet, midway into the film, the Zellner Brothers (David Zellner also wrote the screenplay) abandon their film's lovely quirkiness for more conventional, beginning-middle-end narrative drama. It's a bold misstep because the subtle, lingering "Goliath," premiering in Dramatic Spectrum at the Sundance Film Festival, lacks the emotional heft necessary for ordinary storytelling. "Goliath's" strengths are its oddest qualities. When the Zellners attempt to play matters straight, even attempting a melodramatic climax, "Goliath" loses much of the spark that made it irreverent fun in the first place.

Cinematographer Jim Eastburn channels longtime experimental filmmaker Leighton Pierce and creates beauty from "Goliath"'s ordinary suburban streets, annoying co-workers, office hallways and of course, the gray cat named Goliath. His camerawork is the standout feature of the film giving "Goliath" its arty dazzling glow, the movie equivalent of Polaroid photos and Daniel Clowes comic novels.

David Zellner is perfectly deadpan; giving a performance that at its best moments resembles sleepwalking. His round face, shaggy hair and dumpy body represent the film's ordinary people theme. But after an escalating series of confrontations, there's something of an emotional breakdown at the end of "Goliath." Zellner is at his best when he's shuffling through his daily routines, the film's subtle strangeness. During "Goliath's" melodramatic meltdowns, especially when he explodes in a rage, weed whacker in hand, it's as if he's landed in a different movie.

In these moments of high drama, for the first time, David Zellner comes off as false, as playacting. Melodrama is the fatal flaw for "Goliath," creating a series of disconnects between film and audience, an audience I believe seeks out movies like "Goliath" for its bold experimental nature.
It's as if the Zellner Brothers changed directions in order to offer audiences a more ordinary movie-going experience; something they can immediately recognize.

"Goliath" is a wonderfully strange movie, experimental realism at its best that near its end attempts to be ordinary. This raises one question for the talented Zellner Brothers: What's so bad about being strange?

indieWIRE's coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW's special Park City section.

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2 Comments

  • rj_clifton | January 28, 2008 2:25 AMReply

    I agree with the previous comment (I attended a screening at Sundance). I was really moved by Goliath in many ways and think it's a film that deserves more careful consideration. I think there's something really emotionally sophisticated about this film that takes some chewing on. The Zellners' comedies are never really just for laughs, there's always some vein of pathos that turns laughs into sympathetic grimaces.



    It does have really gorgeous, dreamy, visual cast to it. It has an emotional tone that's both funny and sweet that had me mesmerized. I was increasingly moved by the story, so that the more absurdly dramatic moments were high notes. As directors I get the sense that they made these choices very carefully and aware that their audiences were going to be dealing with a lot of mixed feelings. Great movie. I loved it.

  • wileywiggins | January 26, 2008 10:45 AMReply

    I don't feel like Goliath is 'experimental', I just feel like the sensibility of it is not immediately familiar to some reviewers and they're having a difficult time pigeonholing it. The Dan Clowes comparison was close, but somehow still misses its mark. For whatever reason it was immediately accessible to me. The ending didn't feel incongruous to me and I felt none of the cynicism towards it Steve evidently has.

    I thought it was a particularly brave move for the Zellner's, who could have easily hid behind their 'strangeness' for the whole movie, and never risked being taunted for a very simple and un-ironic emotional release. This is a really strong movie that I think is going to have a long life as people outside the film festival clique discover it.