Magazine article Screen International

Child of God

Magazine article Screen International

Child of God

Article excerpt

Dir: James Franco. US. 2013. 104mins

James Franco's second literary adaptation this year, after his Cannes-bowing William Faulkner version As I Lay Dying, was always going to be a dark little number. Cormac McCarthy's early novel Child Of God tells the tale of Lester ballard, a Tennessee backwoodsman who, rejected by society, descends into a semi-bestial state and ends up as a necrophiliac serial killer of women.

Franco pays homage to McCarthy's source text, and the beauty of his prose, in some voice-over passages from the book voiced by unnamed narrators.

While remaining pretty faithful to the story, Franco somehow manages to inject a note of humour into the story of a man who comes across more as maladroit misfit than evil sociopath. The director also picks up on McCarthy's note of lament for a wilderness lifestyle that was once a great American dream but has, by the time of the film's 1950s setting, gone bad and been driven, literally, underground.

Oddly (given the subject matter), this title - which at the time of writing didn't even have a sales agent - might even score some theatrical action in niche arthouse markets... it certainly has a better chance of reaching real paying audiences than the wilfully abstruse As I Lay Dying or the prolific Franco's other 2013 directorial delivery, Interior. Leather Bar. If the film has one major drawback - apart from its depiction of a wild woodsman humping dead women - it's some wobbly acting in the minor roles. Lead Scott Haze, on the other hand, who is alone on screen for much of the time, holds nothing back in his strong and sometimes alarmingly deranged performance as Lester.

Franco pays homage to McCarthy's source text, and the beauty of his prose, in some voice-over passages from the book voiced by unnamed narrators, with a few others presented by way of intertitles: from these we learn that the Ballard family were always considered pariahs in Sevier County, Tennessee, and we also discover that Lester is an orphan who witnessed his father hang himself when he was nine or ten.

We first see him, already unwashed and unkempt, raging at locals who have gathered for the auction of his family farm; ejected from the property, he finds an abandoned cabin in the woods and moves in. Run-ins with the local sheriff, Fate (Blake Nelson) and his increasing incoherence (the film screened at Venice with English subtitles) seal Lester's outsider status, which is presented as a vicious circle of rejection and introversion. …

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