Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DIFF 2014 Review: CHILD OF GOD

Directed by: James Franco 
Written by: James Franco and Vince Jolivette; based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, and James Franco
Synopsis: The story of a homeless man who becomes increasingly violent and the town that is affected by his actions. 

CHILD OF GOD has a lot of things going for it on paper: it's based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, and has a recognizable name with James Franco being the director. And it's strange, because while it's a beautifully shot film which some amazing acting and shock value that for once, feels justified, CHILD OF GOD is a very bloated story that is telling too simple of a tale to justify its running time.

For majority of the movie, Scott Haze carried the story as Leslie Ballard, a deranged homeless man whose parents died long ago. It's chronicles his descent into madness and depravity, even by the most liberal standards. Haze does an amazing job channeling the rage and the lack of civility in this character. For reasons not explained, Ballard has a drawl so thick that it's impossible to understand. Whether by design or by accident, this does make the movie difficult to follow at times. The fact that the movie opens with Ballard violent lashing out at people trying to buy his parent's former property and then shows, in very explicit detail, him defecating in the woods should be able to condense the movie down to its essence of unchecked violence and nasty images.

The movie's strength and weakness is dragging out scenes beyond their usually logical point. The movie is littered with sequences where Ballard is struggling through a task. For example, when he finds a cabin in the middle of the woods, he brings back a mattress along with other things and then falls in a large watery pothole. The camera stays still and proceeds to show you from far off how he struggles and grunts and spits through this obstacle. It is refreshing to see director James Franco leave his camera still for a while given the current one second edit mind frame. By lingering on Ballard's constant struggles, this, in a strange way, ends up frustrating the viewer, yet we're still able to make a much strong connection to the character, despite not being able to relate to him, therefore making the movie more interesting.

But this also leads this 104 minute movie to feel like it goes on forever. There are too many instances of Ballard just going through his day without the plot actually advancing. You could take out a good 15-30 minutes of this movie and the story would fine. The movie is neatly divided into three acts, which are accompanied by a short narration, and this gives the movie a great sense of structure while also accentuating the pacing issues.

To say that James Franco is talented should be without question. He is a talented director, and CHILD OF GOD has so many beautiful shots that it's hard to believe the guy that was in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. The issue is that this is not an easy movie to watch for both its pacing, and to some sensibilities, the subject matter. This is one of the few movies where I have seen 12 people walk out of during a festival screening. On a personal note, the reason why they walked out is awful, but it's totally justified by what the movie is dealing with. As has been said, Franco is talented but it seems that he makes movies for himself and no one else.

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