Goliath is a film about the quiet despair that fills a man when he sees his life slipping out of his grasp. In this case, our unnammed protagonist (David Zellner) is already frustrated by the fact that his managers have found a creative way to demote him, and his wife is leaving him in a bitter divorce settlement. Even then, he might be okay, but he returns from a frustrating experience trying to attend a funeral to discover that his beloved cat Goliath has gone missing, and it's the last straw. I imagine most people can relate to the feeling, if not the specific scenario; sometimes it's the little things that bring balance to an otherwise bad day. The problem is that Zellner (also the film's writer/director) has picked a target for his pent-up aggression, and I'm not sure I buy it.
At first, Zellner tries to deal, and his life doesn't get any worse, even if it doesn't get any better. He hates having to sit in the breakroom at lunch next to a bunch of burly "brahs" that joke about women and drinking inbetween impromptu wrestling matches and breakdancing. He yells at his wife Abby (Caroline O'Connor) after a particularly terse divorce signing (which will undoubtedly be a make-or-break point for many viewers: an uncut, five minute scene of the two parties signing documents) for things she isn't really responsible for. Ultimately, though, two factors coincide which begin to boil up inside of our sad-sack "hero": the discovery that there is a sexual predator living in the neighborhood (Nathan Zellner, also producer and editor), and the truth about where Goliath is.
Unfortunately, I find it hard to believe that the character would act out in the way he does. Even if his usual reaction towards people is spineless hemming and hawing, refusing to stand up to those who are bringing him down, it still seems like he'd want to take revenge on those who obviously despise him, like his wife and co-workers. I suppose you hear about the quiet guys at work going nuts at home and attacking their families more often than you do them coming into work and going postal on everyone, but the third act of the film requires a jump in logic that I wasn't able to make. The action also provides big questions in and of itself; without giving anything away, I have a tough time accepting that there aren't serious repercussions for the lead character's actions almost immediately.
I'm not well versed in the official requirements for "mumblecore", but I bet Goliath applies based on the two other movies from the movement I've had a chance to watch (the wonderful Baghead and the less-wonderful Yeast). Since the genre is a seriously acquired taste -- I'd estimate that 60% of Goliath is awkward silence -- I'll say upfront that Goliath is not going to be the movie to change anyone's mind about the merits of these movies. Personally, I can stomach it, but Goliath's goals seem muddled. Approximately half of the scenes work, such as when Zellner uses Microsoft Word to create a "missing" poster for his pet seems hilariously insipid in a clever, knowing way, or the ludicrousness of facebook-esque party photos being used on a sex offender database. The rest just lie flat, killing time in an agonizingly slow fashion.
Both Zellners, who are essentially the picture's most prominent characters, are very good with the material. Since one of them wrote it, it's not particularly surprising that the film plays to their strengths, but David is good with the small, twitchy moments of indecision and annoyance that often play over his character's face while other things are going on in the background, and Nathan makes amusing use of straight faces and a electrolarynx (a surprising character trait that the film doesn't overplay). Nobody else really makes much of an impression, including O'Connor, through no fault of her own.
Ugh. The only thing worse than awful DVD cover art is fantastic DVD cover art that just isn't right for the movie. Goliath takes a page from the quirky indie handbook, with "illustrated" artwork that strongly indicates a goofy, funny comedy about a man's love for his pet. Again, it really looks great -- it played a factor in my picking it from the screener pool -- but it just doesn't represent the film in question. The back cover is arranged nicely, the disc art continues the "cartoon" motif, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Goliath gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which is, as most indie films are, at the mercy of the project's production values. Colors range from perfect to blown-out, the amount of detail and grain varies based on the lighting, there's some motion blur here and there, and the image is usually very soft. But it's probably exactly what an original digital copy of the film files would look like, so in that respect, I guess there's little else the viewer could ask for.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is equally adequate, especially since long periods of Goliath are almost silent, with only the sound of scribbling pens or an electric can opener to occupy the viewer's ears. I might say the mix is a tad unbalanced, because it's hard to find a good balance where you aren't deafened by the louder noises (including an electric chainsaw and lots and lots of traffic) and the few lines of dialogue, but other than that, it's as good as can be expected. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, English subtitles (nice that the DVD offers both) and Spanish subtitles are also included.
A filmmaker Q&A (5:16) recorded at CineVegas 2008 is hilariously weird. The filmmakers pop up immediately, about to answer a question, and some eerie music plays them out. Next, there's a shot of Nathan Zellner at the CineVegas buffet, and finally we jump into the Q & A itself. The filmmakers field a series of questions, which are almost sarcastically summarized on screen in quick yellow captions, and many of the responses seem to have had fake clapping loudly imposed on top of them. The piece ends as abruptly as it starts.
Both the box and menu say "Deleted Scenes", but there is only one scene, which is actually an extended take (5:00) rather than a deleted scene. In a throwaway shot in the movie, the main character is seen playing basketball, and the uncut take is presented, with a helpful shot counter calculating baskets, misses, and Zellner's average. Some people are just going to be annoyed watching it, but I laughed (hot streak!).
Finally, Behind the Scenes (5:58) turns out to be a featurette on Carlos Aguirre. Aguirre breakdances in one scene in the movie that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, but the featurette is devoted to his potentially made-up history breakdancing, and eventually segues into a popping-and-locking tutorial that seems hilariously amateur. One of the Zellner brothers also appears to be standing around recording the audio for this featurette in his boxer shorts, for no obvious reason.
Hidden away on the setup menu, there's an audio commentary with David and Nathan Zellner and actor Charles Bryant. The Zellners mostly just ask questions of Bryant, who is amusing in a low-key way. Like most of the bonus features, anybody looking for production detail is out of luck, but if you'd like to hear about the city the movie was filmed in, thoughts on keys and doorknobs, public sex, the trials and tribulations of burying a pet (truly hilarious, in a morbid way), strippers and snakes, the slow-paced editing of the movie (also hilarious), the danger of huffing from whipped cream cans ("hippie crack"), the worst movie he's ever seen, and more, this is the commentary for you.
Finally, the movie's original theatrical trailer rounds out the bonus features. Like the artwork, the trailer is misleading about the movie's tone and style, but it's also funnier than the whole movie, so that's interesting. Additional trailers for In a Day, In the Loop, My Effortless Brilliance, and Medicine For Melancholy play before the main menu.
On one hand, the bonus features provide a limited amount of insight on the making of the film, but they're also bizarrely funny, which is more than can be said for the bonus features on most of the DVDs I watch.
Goliath is a film aimed at a genuinely niche audience, the kind who will have to work to find the movie but will find themselves overwhelmingly rewarded by a film that speaks right to them if they do. I was not a member of that specific audience, but I thought the movie was well-made, and even found myself more amused by it on reflection than i was while watching it. The bonus features are refreshlingly off-the-wall as well, although on the whole, I can't in good conscience tell anyone to buy the film before renting it first.
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