Child of God (2014)

Welcome to Review Basket! Reviewbasket? Different title altogether? Probably. Yes! But for now, let’s start doing what we’re here to do – namely, churning out quick reviews of every movie on the freakin’ planet.

I know you’re thinking A brand spanking new movie review site simply MUST start with James Franco’s latest film Child of God, and so it shall. Anyone familiar with the seemingly frantic shuffling of personalities calling itself “James Franco” will almost immediately recognize Child of God as a work by degree-holding Lit-Crit As I Lay Dying Franco, rather than fuck-the-po-lice Pineapple Express Franco. That much is obvious, but the question is whether or not it makes Child of God any more enticing or worthwhile.

And the answer: sorta. Sorta kinda. CoG is a much more controlled effort than Franco’s As I Lay Dying, partly due to the nature of the books from which these films are adapted and partly, I think, I hope, due to the fact that Franco is learning how to actually direct a movie. It helps that Scott Haze plays Lester Ballard, the heart, soul, and entirety of the movie, and he’s so spot-on creepy that for the majority of the runtime it probably didn’t matter who was behind the camera.

I’ve no doubt that Franco understands the novels of Cormac McCarthy, and yet bringing it to the screen and representing that understanding on film seems to be another matter altogether. The novel retains value today not only because of shock value but because of, among other things, a dichotomous representation of Lester: Lester himself is dregs, despicable, disgusting, cast out, but the writing that he lives in is elevated, beautiful, nearly biblical in the simplicity of it all. Franco’s directing is getting better, I think, but it’s hardly on par with what we’ve just described. One of the opening shots of the film is of Lester painfully going to the bathroom and wiping his ass with a stick, which we’re treated to in great detail from a rearward angle. Shocking, yes, representative of Lester’s condition, yes, but hardly elevated or beautiful or nearly biblical in the simplicity of it all.

Overall, Child of God is worth a watch for Haze’s performance alone. The book is perhaps one of McCarthy’s lesser-known novels, even among his early “Appalachian” set of efforts, and it doesn’t approach the genius of McCarthy’s later efforts in Blood Meridian or The Border Trilogy. Let’s hope Franco doesn’t get ahold of any of those.