Starring: Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, James Franco, Fallon Goodson, Brian Lally, Elena McGhee
Directed by: James Franco
Synopsis: A dispossessed, violent man’s life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation.
The latest Cormac McCarthy book to make it to the big screen, following No Country For Old Men and The Road. This time it is directed by none other than James Franco, who has a few credits to his name now, none of which have been rated particularly highly by the critics. Child of God is another that can be added to his list of ‘not terrible but not great’ movies from behind the camera.
Scott Haze plays Lester Ballard, a guy with no family who has practically grown up in the backwoods of Tennessee, rendering him socially inept and, basically, feral. He can barely speak without grunting. He doesn’t know how to interact with other people and consequently he is acts, and is treated like, an animal. He generally keeps himself to himself, occasionally getting warned by the local sheriff to stay out of town, until one day he makes a discovery in a parked car that sets off a horrific chain of events.
Cormac McCarthy’s books are, despite the films mentioned above, notoriously hard to turn into films. Child of God is certainly one of them. Our one character who we spend most time with on screen is a feral, violent, socially inept, repulsive being who howls, moans, spits and swears. We can hardly understand a word Lester Ballard says. He has no redeeming features at all, so how do we root for him?
This is a rare instance where I had actually read the book prior to watching the film, and I have to say that the book created a far more disturbing image of Ballard than the film. I remember getting to the end of the book and being genuinely shocked or surprised at what transpired. None of this came across in the film. Having said that, Scott Haze was unbelievably good as Ballard. It’s a shame for him that Child of God probably won’t be widely seen, as he puts in such a great performance. Tim Blake Nelson is the other stand out performer as the local sheriff.
Child of God wasn’t a terrible movie, at some points are was actually pretty good, but I think it needed a more experienced, conventional director at it’s helm. Nothing against Franco, but his ‘artier’ preferences tried to shine through, and it’s not the kind of story that needs arty direction. It’s a deeply unsettling, violent southern gothic tale which features rape, murder, necrophilia, scalping and all manner of other things. It needed a director who could handle all that in a suitable way, such as the Coen Brothers did with No Country For Old Men.
All in all Child of God is not without merit, and the acting by Haze is nothing short of amazing, but it just didn’t quite do the amazing book justice. Still, Franco is showing promise as a director and it will be worth looking out for stuff he does in the future.