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I sat still after the United States premiere of James Franco's "Child
of God" at the New York Film Festival, not as much contemplating
whether or not it was good as I was considering whether or not I liked
it. Mostly true to the Cormac McCarthy novel on which it was based, the
film follows the cloistered and violent existence of Lester Ballard
(Scott Haze) who lives isolated in the woods of Tennessee committing
crimes of the most grotesque caliber. I won't say much more about the
plot other than the fact that the sadistic actions shown on screen
evoke an uneasy humor, a disturbing essence of comical brutality. To
say the least, this movie is not for the queasy or the fainthearted.
You will squirm.
James Franco decided to organize the film into three acts, clearly distinguished from one another by title cards. While the producer argued this was done to manifest the passage of time, I felt it had no such effect. To add to this distortion of time and space, scenes are executed as vignettes. There's a constant transition fading in and out of the action, not only prompting confusion as to how much time passes between each scene, but also distracting the audience from the plot by means of excessive filmmaking. Some scenes exist solely for the purpose of character development while others seem to have no function at all. The relevant vignettes are strung together by a consistently distressed brain. While this structure may detract from the linear storyline, it instead leaves more up to interpretation and imagination. No number of scenes can embody the true insanity of Lester Ballard, we can only imagine what madness must be going on between the fades.
Scott Haze's performance as Lester Ballard is probably the most memorable and noteworthy aspect of the film. Haze, who lived alone in caves and lost 45 pounds to prepare for this dynamic and challenging role, brilliantly expresses the complex lunacy of Ballard. He adjusted his voice to a barely comprehensible Tennessee accent and habitually licks his lips and bares his teeth, similar to Heath Ledger's Joker. Admitting that he channeled troubles from his own past when confronting the character, Haze often appears ignorant and childlike, constantly screaming and salivating, a repulsive portrait of a man bore from nature's womb. While sometimes funny, his interactions with his victims are unsettling yet strangely amorous. Just like in the writing of Cormac McCarthy, the audience lacks any sympathy for Ballard, for it's nearly impossible to relate to him. Franco isn't looking for your sympathy, he wants nothing more than your intrigue and attention. To witness Haze is to observe an animal, wild, vicious, and savage. The only other notable performance is that of Tim Blake Nelson playing Sheriff Fate. He conducted the role with a mediated honesty, constructing as realistic a character as possible and standing out within the frame, even with minimal screen time.
All things considered, the technical aspects of the film are quite impressive. Funded out of James Franco's own pocket, the movie looks and sounds great considering its modest budget. The cinematography of the rural Tennessee landscape is eerily beautiful, shot hand-held on a handful of Canon 5Ds. The desaturated and gritty colors add an appropriate rustic feel to the film, further enhancing the forest terrain. The original music, although not particularly memorable, suits the setting well. Furthermore, the nameless narration was true to McCarthy's technique and certainly added to the tone of the film, keeping the audience attentive all the same. Overall, the movie's unsensational filmmaking is entirely fitting, ensuring the horrors on screen are ever more explicit, ever more real.
You can tame the land, but you can't tame a man. "Child of God" is a commentary about the dispossessed in an incestuous homeland. Littered with existential imagery and dialogue, the film offers a respectful and honest rendering of the novel. While I may not agree with some storytelling elements and approaches, Franco still manages to get the point across and deliver a message, a testament to rejection, violence, and humanity. The film is definitely worth a watch if you can stomach it and works as a cogent visual supplement to the novel. I look forward to seeing more James Franco adaptations in the future.
When word broke out that James Franco, wannabe wunderkind who has taken
to adapting classic American literature to the big screen to, well,
mixed results, would be adapting my favorite author's work, I prickled
with righteous indignation. I don't care much for Franco and indeed
find him to be a jack of all trades but indeed master of none: he is a
subpar actor, his writing leaves a LOT to be desired, and his direction
feels a little too over-reliant on flashy tics that add an unnecessary
layer of pretension to the proceedings. And here he is, adapting the
work of the master: Cormac McCarthy.
At first, Franco announced he would be tackling McCarthy's masterpiece, the ultraviolent scalp- hunter saga "Blood Meridian", but after a while, he decided to cut his teeth on a smaller -- but by no means lesser -- work of ol' Cormac's. And this is how he came to deliver "Child of God" onto the masses.
Despite its brevity, "Child of God" is by no means an accessible novel: it's lean, mean and has a soul blacker than night. The novel is just like its protagonist, Lester Ballard, a loner who skulks about the Tennessee backwoods like a dog suffering the early onset of rabies, indulging in varying degrees of vicious activities, from assault to necrophilia to, eventually, murder. Ballard is not your typical protagonist, and yet the way Cormac McCarthy approached him, he was made both revolting and at the same time strangely empathetic, as he managed to submerge the reader into Ballard's festering brain. "A child of God much like yourself" is how McCarthy's opening lines describe Ballard, signifying that the madness and malice that ferments within the man is a seed to be found in any of us. And despite its grim premise, "Child of God" is astoundingly, gut-bustingly funny, like the worst sort of dead-baby joke.
Unfortunately, I feel that Franco has missed the levity, instead emphasizing the straight serial- killer premise. This isn't to say that Franco doesn't hew close to the novel; if anything, he is a little too faithful, even relying on having blocks of text from the novel playing out on the screen. It's an admirable slice of avant-garde, even if I feel that Franco is forgetting the first rule of filmmaking: show, don't tell. Even though McCarthy's prose is magic, Franco should've known (as the Coen Brothers and John Hillcoat knew before him) that McCarthy's words can be translated visually to bring the same harrowing, to-the-bone effect.
That said, Franco does show a great deal of passion for the material. But even beyond the use of McCarthy's words, the most crucial aspect of an adaptation of "Child of God" is the man who will be playing Lester Ballard. And in this film, Ballard is played not by Franco, but by his buddy and frequent collaborator Scott Haze. Whether or not you approve of Haze's performance, you can't say he doesn't go for broke in his portrayal of Ballard. Haze's Ballard is beyond laconic; he speaks in strangled, guttural inarticulations that sound almost caveman-like. I do think that there are times that he lays it on a bit too thick, and I think his drooling, leering presence lacks any of the bizarre charm that made Ballard such a fascinatingly funny character in the book. Haze plays Ballard like a "Deliverance" refugee, and while it isn't bad work on its own, I do feel that Haze is a bit too superficial in his take on one of McCarthy's greatest creations. He makes up for it in intensity, though, gotta give him that.
It also doesn't help that Franco's film has a cheap aesthetic to it, lacking any of the grim Gothic atmosphere of the book. It's my biggest issue with Franco as a director: he has no real concept of effective mise-en-scene, instead opting to point the camera and let things play, cutting an odd times that feel far too arrhythmic to be deliberate. Much like last year's interesting-but- too-shallow "As I Lay Dying", Franco gets the story right but tells it in the most simple, A-to-B- to-C way possible. It's worth the watch for Haze's performance (and also for Tim Blake Nelson, who feels like he should've featured in any and every Cormac McCarthy film before this), but it only serves to prove that we're lucky that we dodged a "Blood Meridian" adaptation by James Franco.
Based in the novel of the same name written by Cormac McCarthy (No
Country For Old Men, The Road). This is very dark film and certainly
not for everyone, but I would recommend it to cinephiles based on the
incredible, visceral performance by Haze. He is Lester Ballard. As
despicable and vile as his behavior is, there is buried within him a
human quality. He just wants what all humans desire to be accepted
The film sticks very closely to the book, with only 2 scenes expanded from the original text. It is most definitely one of the most faithful adaptations I've ever seen. The direction is fairly solid, the use of long takes and natural action is apparent, making everything on-screen seem genuine. All of the camera work is hand-held, which can be disorienting at times but it, in a way, adds to the aesthetic of the film. The music used is subtle yet appropriate. Overall, like I said , a very dark film with very strong subject matter, but it's well done.
Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) is a disturbed man living in the rural
mountains of Tennessee in the 60s. His father killed himself and his
mother ran away. His father's property is auctioned off and he becomes
a recluse. He gets in trouble with Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson)
after he struggled with a drunken woman. He steals and is a general
nuisance. He runs across a young couple dead in their car. He has sex
with the dead girl and steals her body away.
I think this is the only movie where a character is actually taking a dump. I've got to say that it's disturbing and gross. It sets the tone for the whole movie. Scott Haze is terrific in his performance. The main problem is that the movie is uninvolving. After awhile, Lester's insanity feels repetitive and lifeless. His isolation infiltrates into the movie. This movie needs more time for Sheriff Fate. I also wonder why the sheriff can't put him away longer and how bad the dead body smells. These are the little things that nag at me when the movie stops being compelling. James Franco's directions are workable but they need to energize the plot more.
This film is about a woodsman who is violent and lonesome. He is a
disturbed individuals disowned and disliked by the village.
The main character is a man who is wildly different from the other villagers. He cannot relate to other people, and lives in a world of his own. Despite him being a child of God, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic and violent. He's not a character to like, and not just because of his horrid behavior but also of his appearance. I guess "Child of God" is a good film because it evokes a reaction in the mind of viewers, and provoke thoughts on how a person can descend to such lowly depths. It's not a film to like, but to admire for its artistic achievements.
For those who've not yet partaken in the depraved and deranged dealings
of Cormac McCarthy's 1973 book Child of God you are in for one almighty
shock if you by chance stumble upon this new James Franco directed
effort, a tale that is utterly original in all its triumphs and
shortcomings and a tale that deals with some seriously tricky business
that on page seemed almost too much to ever commit to screen but thanks
to an obvious commitment to the text by Franco the film works to a
level that marks the event as an oddity not unworthy of seeking out.
Franco who has long held affiliation with a desire to transform McCarthy's more insane and often controversial works to screen here goes for much of the same aesthetic he created in his last directional outing As I Lay Dying, a low budget yet gritty feel that uses it's natural surrounds to good effect and gives off the illusion of a bigger project. Franco harbors a good feel for not only Lester Ballard the creation but also his world, the feel of the lonely mountains and the people that inhabit them is captured to great effect and visions so vividly written in the book are bought to life here in many respects. With the world captured so foreign too many of us, Franco in the form of actor Scott Haze has found someone that against all odds is Lester Ballard and leads the story of insanity forward.
Without spoiling the character for those uninitiated, Lester Ballard is a thoroughly despicable and complex creation, a man who despite clearly not being of sane mind is also a man who knows better than the acts he commits. Haze owns this "child of god" from small mannerisms through to out and out rage, from random lonely road discoveries to questionable hair and makeup, Haze gets Lester right. Haze is the focus point of the picture with only small appearances by Tim Blake Nelson and Franco himself it's clear that this film is built by Haze but there is only so far his performance can carry a picture that in the end is dealing with material mighty hard to not only relate to but to tolerate and it's a commendable feat to the filmmakers that you won't be reaching for the off switch a mere 30 minutes in for make no doubt about it there are mightily tough and mature themes the film deals with.
Child of God is a film you feel will slowly be discovered by an unknowing audience who will react strongly either way in favour or hatred to a tale that provides no reason for things being the way they are. For those who are familiar with the text this is a very strong attempt at turning an almost un-filmable book into a quality film and as it stands is another fine turn by Franco as a director in what is shaping up to be an interesting career behind the camera.
3 conniving stuffed toys out of 5
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a big fan of McCarthy's "The Road," (both the book AND the film), I
was excited to see the trailer for "Child OF God," a film based on
another of his works, which, admittedly, I had not read. I put the film
on and proceeded to be disappointed.
A severely disturbed hillbilly with a traumatic past is ejected from his home, after which he wanders around Tennessee, clutching his beloved rifle (and assorted stuffed toys). Mumbling incoherently, talking incoherently and shrieking incoherently, he goes from squatting in isolated cabins and raping corpses, to living in caves and killing a young woman so as to continue raping corpses.
Finally, he is caught during a botched murder attempt, but is able to escape when a lynch mob sneaks him out of custody in an attempt to take the law into their own hands.
Scott Haze's portrayal of the deranged Lester Ballard is truly excellent. However, the bleak and depressing tone of the film was overshadowed by a pervasive sense of boredom, leaving me practically without feeling. By the 80-minute mark, I was just waiting for the movie to end. Which it did: at 96 minutes it just sort of peters out and comes to a dead end.
I had no idea what to expect with Child of God. I haven't read the book
but I have heard its quite disturbing. I had my skepticism because it
could have easily been a disturbing movie just for the sake of being
disturbing, but I had hope that James Franco would deliver something
memorable, and he has!
Lester Ballard is a despicable man. Shouting and abusing anyone in his sights. Filthy, foul mouthed, psychotic, this is a man you wouldn't want to have a conversation with, and I was expecting just to have nothing but repulsive feelings when watching him on screen! But what makes the film work, is that Franco, although not condoning this man's behaviour, allows some humanity inside a person that everyone deemed as a lost cause. There was a strange beauty in this film that hid under all the ugliness.
The acting from Scott Haze is nothing short of amazing. Psychotic one second, to a crying mess the next. You have a whirlwind of emotions when dealing with this very dramatic character.
Be warned, the themes in this film are very extreme and will upset a lot of people, but I thought it had a purpose.
If you don't mind watching films that aren't afraid to show you the ugly side of life together with a strange sense of beauty, then Child of God comes recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Complete vanity project, inside and out. There was maybe 10 minutes of
movie here about an interesting character that should have been a
supporting role in something else. It did not carry a whole film.
No real story. Vignettes. Severely mentally ill man in the 1960s forced to live in the forest in the mid-west (really thought it looked like the '30s). In loneliness he has sex with a dead girl. After mild harassment from the Sheriff that he probably had dozens of times, he turns into a serial killer.
Some very brief macabre elements that were interesting. Scott Haze in the lead was good with what he had to work with, albeit not much.
But Franco casting himself in a bit part near the end was ridiculous and distracting. Even more embarrassing was slapping him on the box of the DVD as a co-lead. My theory was that was the distributor, a Chinese company, making a sloppy decision.
Just a whole lotta nothing. Don't bother. Many other acceptable and OK movies you could be less disappointed in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With Corman McCarthy you know you're not going to get light , frothy
family friendly fare . NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN saw film producers queue
up to buy film rights for his novels and to be fair THE ROAD is one of
the most memorable post apocalyptic American cinema has produced in a
very long time , as long as you get past the unrelenting nihilistic
mood . With CHILD OF GOD the same in your face attempt to shock the
audience is present and at four minutes in the audience are treated to
a graphic scene of a character doing a poo ! That gives you an idea of
how the film continues and if you don't like CHILD OF GOD by this stage
turn off and find90 minutes to do something else
!!!!! SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS !!!!!
Despite the cast being headed by the prolific James Franco who also directs Franco only appears in cameo . Instead the story is centered around Lester Ballard played by Scott Haze , an outsider of society whose unsocial behaviour eventually mutates in anti-social serial murder . It is a good performance and one wonders if Franco might have had one eye of the Oscars of getting Haze an Oscar nomination . It's certainly worthy of a nom and reading the trivia section we learn Haze takes method acting to new heights by preparing for the role by sleeping in the open and living in a cave . Perhaps by trying too hard the voters of these prestigious awards decided to ignore Haze for this very reason ?
More likely however is that when you're playing a character it's essential that the audience emphasise with your aims . Now I don't mean the audience have to agree or sympathise with these aims but must understand them at the most basic fundamental level . Here we see Ballard embark on a killing spree . Fair enough , show me someone who doesn't harbour abstract murderous fantasies and I will show you a hypocritical liar but killing people because of motives of necrophilia is something entirely different . There might be reasons why having sex with a dead body is preferable to a live one but none springs to mind . I have also never watched a film thinking to myself "Hmmm not a bad film but we could have benefited from a few scenes of necrophilia inserted in to it" ; Like pooing necrophilia isn't a spectator sport . The fact that Franco shoots the film with hand-held cameras giving everything a cinema verite feel adds to the alienating feel
CHILD OF GOD is an example of a film being well made and acted but also lives up to the phrase "It's not a film for everyone" .meaning it has little commercial appeal and isn't popcorn entertainment for the masses . Bleak and depressing it's one of these films I'm unsure I should have watched in the first place and I'm rather sure I have no compulsion to watch it again . You have been warned
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