Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: James Franco
Cast: Scott Haze, James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson
Release Date: August 1st, 2014
“He was of German and Irish blood. A child of God. Much like yourself perhaps, look ” notes a narrator at the beginning of the new James Franco drama Child of God regarding the title character. Aside from the fact that the main character here was created by an omniscient being, there is little that most people would have in common with him in this dreary and painfully-long picture.
Scott Haze stars here as the detestable and clearly unstable Lester Ballard. One of the first looks we get of Ballard— in all of his unpleasantness— is when he walks onto a property being sold carrying his gun and yelling “This is not your property.” The locals are frightened that this strange and obsessive man is threatening them and as the story continues, it’s revealed that Ballard is known for this type of behavior.
He’s the town weirdo and people are both frightened and annoyed when he is around. Audiences will likely feel the same way.
Haze fully commits to the role to his credit but his simplistic character is predominantly presented as a mentally unstable lunatic with little hope of redemption. There are times when he is an innocent victim— as when one stranger accuses him of assault and battery without any evidence— but Ballard eventually becomes the nightmare the town thinks he was born to be.
When early on, he finds a deceased couple of the side of the road, he takes the female passenger and moves her into his home. That’s the beginning of his “romance” with this body and in the scenes to come, we see him quickly becoming a necrophiliac in a few graphic scenes. With no friends to speak of and only a few stuffed animals to speak to (which he won at a local carnival), this child of god slowly descends into madness leaving the audience with no characters to like or be interested in.
James Franco appears late in the picture as one of the townspeople who threatens and questions Ballard, hoping to find the dead bodies he has hidden. (His descent into craziness has been completed as the movie starts wrapping down). As the director, Franco likely treated this movie as a passion project hoping to bring this dark and hard-to-appreciate Cormac McCarthy story to the big screen.
Admittedly, the entire premise is a hard one to adapt and Franco uses the right imagery but the plot doesn’t lend itself easily to the medium. In the past, McCarthy’s work has been featured on the big screen with mixed results. The thoughtful No Country for Old Men (2005), adapted from one of his books) went on to win best picture and last year’s The Counselor (which I disliked for other reasons) featured an original script by the famed author. Both of those films featured morally-depraved individuals but they were in more supporting roles. The main character here is the morally-depraved one and because of that, it’s hard to ever connect with the story as a well.
It’s hard not to appreciate Haze’s performance here– he seemingly gets lost in the character– but as a whole, the movie focuses too much on the main character’s obsessive behavior and never works as a complete narrative. Franco is known for choosing interesting and unique projects– this would surely count as one of them– and I can’t wait to see what he does next but Child of God leaves a lot to be desired.
Review by: John Hanlon