UMP Review – Child of God

A disturbing drama based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel is a playground for an amazing leading role of Scott Haze, but fails to fully engage emotionally

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Rarely does it happen a movie is so creepingly disturbing, visually hideous, but at the same time marks a “path” you follow with disregard of these malfunctions. James Franco’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God” is a gruesome picture, bursting with violent images, “walking” on a very thin ice, but eventually – it is hard to claim it’s an astonishing piece of cinema. Although Franco weavens his feature with an ubiquitous “artsy” spirit, “Child of God” ends up being a vastly wasted potential.

Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) is a mentally ill recluse, who lives in the woods somewhere in the American backwater. He exists outside the social framework and finds it extremely hard to adjust himself. Being excluded by the society, he finds an obnoxious activity, which attracts the attention of the local community.

Hands down to Scott Haze for his performance. Ballard is unspeakably hideous, terrifying and appalling and the actor puts all his charisma into the role. Observing Lester’s progressive “dehumanization”, slow process of becoming a danger to the community, is absolutely fascinating thanks to Haze’s interpretation of Ballard. It takes a lot of courage and hard work to go as deep into the psychology of the character as this actor did. All the small gestures, wicked eyesight, strange, crooked walk – all that contributes to the fantastic work of Scott Haze. I assume that for many viewers, Ballard would be too extreme and psychedelic to handle, but one is certain – Haze’s role is practically the only reason to watch Franco’s drama.

Putting aside Haze’s role, Ballard’s story is gross and only an exceptionally skillful director would strike the perfect balance between the direct, disturbing imagery and suspensful atmosphere. In other words, Franco’s main flaw is that he’s driven by the flaming desire to shock his audience. This approach caused him to mistakenly focus on the violent graphics, omitting the brilliant, psychological potential of McCarthy’s novel. As a consequence, instead of an intelligent insight into the human, hideous nature, we received an artistic, yet absolutely disgusting portrayal of a psychokiller, who lives in a cave. And despite Haze’s groundbreaking performance, Franco used the actor’s skills too excessively and turned it against the film. Paradoxically, the more we see of Haze’s fantastic role, the more tired we get of it. And it’s entirely the director’s fault – observation of a degraded mind could be fascinating just like it happened in “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”.

Franco’s film is even more interesting in terms of how blatant it is, when looking at its “components” separately. The soundtrack is just to the point, mainly focused around folk stylistics, capturing at the same time the American province atmosphere and the dark side of the story. The cinematography, as mentioned previously in this review, is greatly picturesque, once hermetic, once letting to fully breathe in the story. Franco gloats about this artsy piece he’s playing, but frankly, the more we see of it, the more auto-thematic it becomes. And obviously, this happens unintentionally.

“Child of God” could be a breakthrough for Franco. He is ambitiuosly seeking attention and such a story could really boost his current position as an indie filmmaker. The actor-director cannot be completely criticized, because there is a lot of goodness in this horrifying portrayal. Sadly, Franco didn’t manage to make full use of the potential he was given on a plate. Hopefully, he will continue working on this “side” of camera – it seems to me he’s way more talented as a director than actor.

UMP Grade: 30/50

(Cinematography: 8, Plot: 4.5, Acting: 8, Soundtrack: 5.5, Quaintness: 4)

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