‘The Line’ Review: Alex Wolff Transforms for Fraternity Thriller Rooted in Toxic Male Group-Think

All for one and one for all — so long as the hierarchy of class, race, and wealth stays in line. Filmmaker Ethan Berger’s feature narrative debut “The Line” premiered at 2023 Tribeca is absolutely one of the most accurate films about fraternity life ever made. Why? Well, aside from the homophobic jokes, competitive tension between brothers, and the racist response to non-conforming female love interests, the casting feels more like a documentary than a scripted fictional feature.

Berger, who cowrote the script with Alex Russek after years of research into Greek life, directs lead star Alex Wolff who went full Method acting to portray Tom, a working student who has second thoughts about his roommate Mitch’s (Bo Mitchell) obsession with mouthy pledge Gettys (Austin Abrams). Tom tells his mother that being part of (fictional) fraternity Kappa Nu Alpha (KNA) is key to landing postgrad jobs; it’s all about the relationships built between brothers. Mitch’s father (John Malkovich), who has a monopoly on the meat market, casually offers Tom an internship over dinner, while fraternity president Todd (Lewis Pullman) asks Tom to accompany him to lunch with the university’s dean of students.

It’s no matter that Tom is already losing himself in the Southern group-think behind the frat, even going so far as to adopt a “faux Forrest Gump accent,” according to his mom. And the “your mom” quips continue into the fraternity walls, as Tom teases Mitch for his hot trophy mother (Denise Richards) and posters of women’s thong-clad rear ends are “eaten” by the brothers through frequent licking.

The arrival of new pledge Gettys throws the delicate balance of testosterone into disarray, though, as Todd has a special bond from back home with the conceited freshman. “I’m just trying to fuck the most girls and have the most fun,” Gettys says when asked why he wants to join KNA. Tom assures him both will happen, but not to lose sight that three presidents of the U.S. are also KNA alums.

The fraternity has to set an example on campus, between making fun of “Black lesbian” Annabelle (Halle Bailey) and snorting cocaine. Gettys proves to be invaluable at first, warning his fellow potential brothers about the downsides of cunninglingus on a prostitute (STDs, obviously) and why it’s the worst thing possible to be perceived as gay.

The shifting power structures between Todd, Gettys, Tom, and Mitch unfold as a game of musical chairs over which brother is viewed as a “liability” to the greater cause of the fraternity itself. Bobby (Angus Cloud) serves as comic relief and the epitome of the always-high frat bro, one who fits with Tom’s assertion to love interest Annabelle that his brothers are just a bunch of (direct quote) “harmless retards.”

“The Line” is set in 2014, which explains the existence of Gettys’ soon-to-be-iconic dance acting out the NSFW lyrics to The Wanted’s dated hit “Glad You Came.” Abrams is a force onscreen, expertly paired with Mitchell’s haunting take on a too-rich-to-fail teen who glowers in the face of Wolff’s feelings of being town between doing what he thinks is right and what sounds like good, old-fashioned frat fun.

A fatal accident (or was it premeditated?) in the latter third of the film leads the core group of fraternity brothers to be interrogated by a detective (Scoot McNairy) in a finale reminiscent of “Promising Young Woman.” No one can go against the system, or fully step out of line. The repercussions, if any, will always be unequal. A final shot using real news footage of Penn State freshman Timothy Piazza, who died during hazing rituals, caps off the Tribeca breakout film. “The Line” is a must-see for a peek behind the coke-filled sheets of fraternities, well, everywhere.

Rating: A-

“The Line” premiered at 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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