Child of God: Franco Takes on McCarthy
Child of God is one tough movie to watch. In making his film based on Cormack McCarthy's novel of the same title, James Franco seems to have gone the way of the 70's art film. While there are startling, brutal yet beautiful images throughout, Franco makes the wrongheaded "darkness equals mystery" mistake and frequently scenes which are played in the dark are insufficiently lit making it nearly impossible to see what should be shocking and/or revelatory. Dark is just dark.
While once it seemed effective, the fade to black style of ending scenes can, and does grow wearying and Franco ends every scene - some lasting only a matter of seconds - with a black out, making the film jerky (which may be a point) and more episodic, breaking the continuity. It feels like an attempt to reach into the tortured brain of its central character, Lester Ballard.
As Ballard, Scott Haze gives an exhausting, brilliant and searing performance turning this mad, societal outcast into a pitiable figure. Whether howling with rage, crying or mumbling incoherently as he wanders from one horrible event through the next, Haze's commitment is total (including one almost wretch inducing scene near the beginning). In watching him, I felt I was observing a Cro Magnun man who suddenly found himself in the 20th century, a world nearly as foreign to him as another planet.
The rest of the cast get, and require, little screen-time, but their contributions are invaluable. And, as at least some of them would tell you, playing dead is never easy business.
Earlier I mentioned Franco going the "art film," route, but sadly what is missing most from "Child of God" is any genuine sense of making art. There is almost a complete lack of any interpretive effort who chose a pervasive literalness to the storytelling that grows tiresome early on.
A good effort, a great performance, but not a particularly good film.