Child of God,
directed by James Franco
(Spotlight, 2013)

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy is a brutal read. The vivid detail, masterfully done Appalachian-accented writing and disturbing plot, characters and details make it so. With that brutality though, comes a semblance of meaning. You read about the character, Lester, and you begin to empathize with him. He grew up with no parents and was shunned by society from his adolescence. I started to wonder whether he would have grown up to be more stable if he'd been treated more like a person rather than an animal.

The problem with this movie is that it doesn't leave you wondering. That type of depth is difficult to portray in a film, and it is especially difficult for a new director, such as James Franco. In this movie Lester is just an animal, but the interactions with others are rare, unlike in the novel, so you never really get to see how people treat him, or how it affects him.

Hopefully you all know what the movie and book are about, but if not, I will recap it a little. Lester Ballard is a outsider who is shunned and looked down upon. He gets falsely accused of rape by a woman he stumbles upon and tries to help. It seems as though this is the turning point for Lester, he sees that he will be jailed regardless of whether he is kind or not and this begins his descent into reckless, psychotic and psychopathic behavior. He comes upon a car with two teenage lovers who were asphyxiated by their car's exhaust, and he has sex with the dead girl. Lester takes her to his home and treats her like a wife, talks to her and buy clothing to dress her, and in this scene we see how crazy he truly is, and it leaves no doubt in our minds that Lester is psychotic.

The movie is interesting, it brings the book to life in a intriguing way, characters are given faces, and towns are shown as McCarthy would have liked it. Lester Ballard is also portrayed very well by an actor, Scott Haze, who although unknown for now will make waves in years to come; he is stunningly good. Haze portrays Ballard as terrifyingly as he was meant to be, and his mannerisms are done very well. The mannerisms portray a man in distress without going overboard, although the way he speaks in the film is awful -- you won't understand half the words he says and will need to turn the subtitles on. I think this weakened the movie and makes Lester seem mentally retarded rather than psychotic. He also spends much of the movie spitting, screaming and having snot blow out of his nose -- maybe Appalachian psychopaths are really like that, maybe Franco actually did try to make Lester seem like the animal he's become, but once again it made Lester seem mentally deficient.

Another problem with the movie is that it is quite boring, it moves slowly and focuses on emotion rather than actions or words. However there is very little emotion in this novel -- any fan of McCarthy knows his emotion is not the strong suit of the novels. Child of God, as a novel, focused on atmosphere and description, and while that works as a novel, as a film you just get stuck looking at the images.

Now this movie isn't all bad, the cinematography is beautiful, and the score is very well done. The music reminds you that you're in the Appalachian mountains but also gives you something to enjoy while the movie is going on. The acting is also top notch for the most part. Another positive is that the atmosphere of the second and third part of the film are done very well. They have the feel of the novel and keep you interested.

Most of the negatives lie in this movie's lack of meaning, and the fact that it can be quite boring. Franco took Child Of God but, not only did he not add anything unique, he also took out the unique parts of the novel. These are big negatives, sadly. I would tell people who love Cormac McCarthy to watch this film, however anyone who doesn't like the novel or McCarthy shouldn't go near this one.

review by
Vlady Kozubnyak

6 December 2014

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