Child of God

In James Franco's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, Scott Haze plays Lester Ballard, a rural fringe dweller driven mad by an encroaching society he doesn't understand. McCarthy loosely based the Ballard character on Ed Gein, the real-life serial killer who also inspired Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Clearly, the psychology and stories behind Gein’s crimes are a source of fascination for movie audiences, and also for filmmakers, writers, and actors.  Here, Haze immerses himself so thoroughly in the character that it's impossible to look away from his actions, no matter how unpleasant they may be. In the past, I've often added a full star to my assessment of a mediocre movie when it contains a performance as committed and impressive as this one, but great movie acting can not exist in a vacuum. A character can only come to life within the world of the film he inhabits, and, in this case, Franco's lack of confidence and steadiness as a director is too conspicuous to overlook. The picture is shot in a quasi-documentary style, with a rough, rushed multi-camera technique that looks like an unconfident filmmaker trying to bottle a talented actor's lightning, rather than a deliberate, considered collaboration between director and performer to create something cinematically authentic and truthful. It's an odd comparison, but the film made me feel the way I often do about Christopher Guest's movies: even when his actors do their best work, I'm never convinced that their characters are real people, and I'm consequently unable to appreciate the movies as anything but exercises in improvisation. 

Child of God is far more bleak and isolated than other recent McCarthy adaptations like the Coen Brother’s Oscar winning No Country for Old Men or even John Hillcoat’s The Road. It is tough to get a film made with subject matter this dark. Indeed co-star Tim Blake Nelson was once going to make a film of this novel but could not get the funding even with Sean Penn cast as Ballard. Working within a self-financed micro-budget, I'm sure Franco had to shoot this his movie quickly and cheaply.  But we're in the midst of a boom in excellent low-budget indies, and there is a palpable difference between expertly-rendered films like Blue Caprice, (too pull an example of a film I saw the same week) and movies like this one, which feel hastily banged-out. Franco has made three films this year, two of them adaptations of novels by great Southern writers, and he's currently in production on a screen version of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”  Child of God is the first movie of Franco's that I've seen, and I'll reserve judgment on his filmmaking until I see more of his work, but I suspect that banging out movies so rapidly, especially in the midst of all his other projects, does a disservice to the resulting pictures. I hope Franco devotes at least as much time to making The Sound and the Fury as it took me to read it.


Directed by James Franco
Produced by Caroline Aragon, Vince Jolivette, and Miles Levy

Screenplay by James Franco and Vince Jolivette
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

With: Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, James Franco, Brian Lally, Elena McGhee, and Vince Jolivette

Cinematography: Christina Voros
Editing: Curtiss Clayton
Music: Aaron Embry

Runtime: 104 min
Release Date: 29 September 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1