Cormac McCarthy is arguably one of the best writers of our generation. His novels, which analyze our basic human urges, have struck a tone with his legion of readers. Of course, the content he crafts is immediately attractive for adaptations in the creative community; The Road was one of the most pertinent projects to appear in the past few years. It's not surprising, then, that actor-turned-director James Franco decided to tackle Child of God, an early McCarthy novels, for one of his first turns in the director's chair.
"I’m in an unusual position," noted Franco at a NYFF press conference for the film. "I’m in the commercial film world, but also part of the pop culture as a performer. I also have ideas that go against the mainstream ones. So I guess what I can do is bringing those two worlds together."
Newcomer Scott Haze plays Lester Ballard, a recluse living in the woods of Tennessee who always seems to have his trusty shotgun at his side. The story unfolds as we watch Ballard descend deeper and deeper intro depravity. Franco paints a startling portrait of a protagonist that is equal parts fascinating and repulsive.
“I saw Scott go through very dark personal things," explained Franco. "He was the friend... that I didn’t want to spend so much time with over the years. He was just kind of crazy... No one can deny that [he] gives an incredible performance."
Indeed, Haze lights up the screen, imbuing his character with raw animalistic rage as he wanders the countryside crudely dealing with the obstacles thrust into his path. Tim Blake Nelson as the county sheriff keeps a close eye on the degenerate who he feels could explode at any second.
"Child of God is not for the faint-hearted," said NYFF Director of Programming Kent Jones. "It’s a subject you would not expect to find in cinema, and I have to say that [Franco] really looks at it directly. Unlike a lot of other celebrities who decide that they want to make movies, he’s actually a serious filmmaker with a very serious approach to American literature."
While not an easy watch, adventurous viewers won't be able to look away. Franco, known for his range as an actor, may have proven he can lengthen his stellar career with projects behind the camera. Regardless, this captivating Southern Gothic tale is a must see at the 51st New York Film Festival.
Child of God
Director: James Franco
Section: Official Selection
Screens: 9/29, 9:15pm + 10/1, 11:00am
NYFF Official Description:
This uncompromising excursion into American Gothic is not for the faint-hearted. Adapted from a 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel, the action is set in rural Tennessee in the early 1960s. Lester (Scott Haze), an unstable, childlike man, is evicted from his farm. He retreats with his rifle into the backwoods, sets up a makeshift home in an abandoned cabin and roves the landscape, wreaking havoc and upsetting and intimidating almost everyone in his path. Lester is identified as a local menace by the county sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson), and as his antisocial behavior veers in increasingly unnatural directions, he withdraws into a subterranean existence, regressing to an almost animal-like state. Confirming the promise of his recent adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, James Franco here demonstrates an unmistakable gift for unadorned storytelling, a rich sense of atmosphere, and a willingness to handle extremely difficult material in an unsensational manner. The result is a truly disturbing portrait of pathological atavism, showcasing a performance of absolute commitment by newcomer Haze.