James Franco, at first, wanted to tackle Cormac McCarthy's classic and ultra-violent novel, Blood Meridian. Believe it or not, as an avid reader of the man's literary work, I lost two nights of sleep thinking about Blood Meridian in the form of a film. You have to break every rule there is in order to turn some of McCarthy's novels into a movie. McCarthy's novels demand their own readers. And, if the films are faithful to the man's work they demand their own audience, respectively.
Blood Meridian, I don't think it can be filmed, thinking about all the rules today that a director must follow. Yes, it's true that all of McCarthy's novels are written in cinematic style, but some of them cannot be just films. In other words, you can't just make a movie based on McCarthy's work for the sake of film-making. But, if you're eager as a fan, as an artist, writer/director, and you can't sleep, then be extra audacious as an artist. One must forget the rules; not to bend them, but break them in total.
Blood Meridian project then sat in silence; words were out that even directors Ridley Scott and Todd Field decided to put it down after a gentle kiss on its cover.
Years has passed, and Franco, it seems like he's not giving up as a director to tackle at least one book of McCarthy. Child of God, also one of my favorites, is a timeless classic, and like many of McCarthy's work, it's dark. Silently and coldly. When it was announced that Franco was to helm the project, I just sat back to wait and see the result. Franco, I think, is brilliant; he's one of my favorite actors. But, is he a good director?
I have to give him credit for not going after Blood Meridian. What he has done here is brainy, I believe, for directing 'Child of God' instead, but as an indie project, though. 'Child of God' is perhaps Franco's key to make Blood Meridian someday. What's impressing about the film is that it's too faithful to the novel. I'm not even sure if I'm reviewing the book or the movie. I think it's good to be too conscientious at times, and brutally ardent.
Set in mountainous Sevier County, Tennessee, in the 1960s, 'Child of God' tells the story of Lester Ballard, a dispossessed, violent man whom the narrator describes as “a 'Child of God' much like yourself perhaps.” Ballard's life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends literally and figuratively to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation.
Lester Ballard, much like, No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh, is iconic, though in his own way, the way McCarthy's has written him. The highlight of Franco's film is his actor, Scott Haze, whose performance is passionately powerful as Lester Ballard. He has psychologically crawled under the skin of McCarthy's tragic character. Not sure if one should nominate Ballard as remorseless, as one first must ask, if Ballard even comprehends the gravity of his deeds, all his wrongdoings. Haze, in order to prepare himself for such a challenging role, lived alone in caves and also lost 45 pounds. As Ballard, as he's often obtuse and childlike, he's often brutal and at all times unpredictable. Scott Haze deserves an Academy Award nomination, if you ask me. One of the other important characters, though in minimal screen time, is Sheriff Fate, limned by Tim Blake Nelson, who gives a performance that is genuine and sensible.
Franco's film is riveting not just due to the powerful performances, but due to its technical aspects as well. As a director, he knows where to set the camera, capturing besides the characters, the rural landscapes of Tennessee; leaving the atmosphere for us eerily at all time gray. Considering the film's modest budget, which came out of James Franco's own pocket, Child of God looks remarkable. This is his masterpiece.
Child of God opens in 10 cities on August 1st and a VOD/DVD rollout will follow October 28.
Click here to find theaters near you opening Child of God on August 1st.