What happens when you bring together a dark story from one of America’s foremost writers of dark stories and multi-hyphenate, zeitgeist-uber-renaissance-actor-director-man, James Franco?
Well in this case Child of God, a dark and challenging movie, directed with notable control and competency by Franco and lifted from the book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (author of The Road and No Country for Old Men).
Enter Scott Haze who delivers a quite astoundingly dedicated and brave performance as Tennessee resident and social outcast, Lester Ballard. Haze embodies this almost primeval creature with a devotion that is staggering and his performance will surely propel him onto more leading roles.
Ballard is all snarls and guttural buck-toothed incoherence, which at first verges on irritation as not only is it hard to understand much of what he says but such intensity from a central character is difficult to take in the opening of a movie. He is so starkly separated from the world that surrounds him, so monstrously psychopathic, that it would be easy to view him as a simple villain. However, through Haze’s incredible commitment, he soon moves this strange creation of a man through a fault-line plot shift that, against your better judgement, only brings you more under his spell.
Franco adheres to the literary (un)conventions of McCarthy’s text, staging the film in three sections or ‘acts’ and having different and seemingly anonymous narrators speaking in voice-over, describing and explaining Lester’s life. A life detached from society that leads to a downward spiral of morality and descent into utterly sub-human behaviour. Through Haze’s absolute dedication to Ballard you can’t help, even in his darkest and most hideous moments, but root for him in some strange small way. Considering the subject matter this is a testament to the actor indeed.
Despite the marketing campaign and obvious need to try to ‘sell’ the picture based on Franco’s fame, he only appears on screen for (barely) two of the 104 minute running time. Make no mistake, this is Scott Haze’s movie. Thanks to him, and Franco’s controlled direction, Child of God is quite a provocative and worthwhile attempt at some very controversial source material. Worth watching for Haze alone.