By now, responding to James Franco’s astounding productivity with faux-outrage has become such a cliché that the multihyphenate is often denied credit when he does things well.
And he should be hailed for taking a crack at adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel “Child of God,” dense and unforgiving material about a wild man named Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) who has been cast away from society and transformed into a murderous brute. He terrorizes a bleak, Depression-era rural Tennessee landscape, engulfed in gloom.
This is pretty much unfilmable stuff; it’s structured around a man who is so defined by his bestial anger, his all-consuming insanity, that he’s hardly a man at all. The movie delves into the lowest imaginable depths of depravity, with scenes of necrophilia and gruesome violence.
It’s intended to directly question the Biblical notion that we’re all made in God’s image, to ponder the meaning of a deity that could have created such a monster.
Franco gives this an admirable try, directing with an unflinching eye and earning the trust of his star, who gives the sort of fearless performance that an actor would only provide to a trusted collaborator.
Haze makes himself an emaciated wreck who succumbs to spasms of anger that cause his whole body to shake, with snot pouring out of his nose and spit emanating from his lips.
The material goes to such an unrelentingly dark place that the overall effect is deadening.
The relentless grimness leaves you numb rather than enlightened and the bigger ideas are swallowed by the vociferous madness.
Child of God
Two and a half stars
Directed by James Franco | Starring Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco | Rated R | Playing at Village East