Child of God

Child of God
Directed by James Franco
Starring Scott Haze, James Franco
In US Cinemas August 1st, 2014 (limited)

by Joanna Orland

Newsflash: James Franco collaborates with dead authors – One of many endless quotable ideas from the actor, artist and now director of the Cormac McCarthy novel-turned-film Child of God. McCarthy is the renowned author of such classics including No Country For Old Men and The Road, which were both adapted into very excellent high drama films. Child of God is an instance of right story, wrong hands.  (Also, McCarthy was still alive at the time James Franco delivered this collaboration statement at the 2013 Venice Film Festival and he remains as such at the time of the film’s US release. ?)

Franco has good intentions. The problem is, he is a jack of all trades and a master of merely one – acting. I don’t want to be overly critical of the guy because I think he is one hell of a comedic and dramatic actor. It is a rare feat to be a master at both. But the problem with Franco lies in his ambition. Again, not to be one to criticize ambition – good for him. But basically, he should stick to what he knows.

The mood of the film is completely wrong. Where No Country For Old Men and The Road build the mood, the tension and the characters at an enthralling level where you are literally on the edge of your seat, Child of God merely skims the surface. The mood and style of this film is amateurish, opting for a more naturalistic feel rather than highly stylized and dramatized as the other McCarthy pictures. The soundtrack and scape which were used seamlessly in the aforementioned two, notably No Country For Old Men, were not used as dramatic devices in any way, but rather as location setting tools to illustrate that the film takes place in Tennessee. They must like banjos in Tennessee!

The performance of lead actor Scott Haze as Lester Ballard is hollow. Well played on the surface, but lack of shower and 1h45m of grunting does not a performance make. It’s difficult to feel empathy for a character as horrific as Ballard, but if this film is to succeed in having a caring audience, he needs to be engaging. He is unfortunately antagonizing. There have been morally worse protagonists in cinema before Child of God, but somehow Ballard is on his own here.

Franco himself said a lot about about a lot at the Child of God press conference at the 2013 Venice Film Festival – not only does he not sleep, but he doesn’t seem to stop for air either. One poignant statement of his was regarding how he feels this film, and his previous which was an adaptation of a Faulkner novel, are thematically about isolation from society and trying to make social connections in spite of being in such an isolated state. Perhaps this film is a thematic autobiography for Franco who seems to be isolating himself more and more from the film community.

Audiences were walking out of not only the film, but the press conference. The rest of us soldiers who stayed behind were in fits of giggles at points. This man, while an amazingly talented actor and charismatic good-looking individual, seems very pretentiously full of himself. Sure, he may be in on the joke as his starring role as himself in This Is The End suggests, but the man even put himself in Child of God in the most arrogant fashion possible. He modestly declined the starring role, but as a civilian in this film, he cheapens it even further. This film isn’t tongue in cheek like a Tarantino film where a director cameo can be a highlight.

This film is attempting to be gritty and serious, instead it is antagonistic in all the wrong ways (yes, I believe cinema can be affectedly antagonistic in the right ways) and amateurish. McCarthy’s work deserves so much more respect than this.

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