I can't think of a better modern real life equivalent to Jeremy Hillary Boob a.k.a. The Nowhere Man from Yellow Submarine than James Franco. In The Beatles' gorgeous psychedelic trip, Boob is a gnome-like parody of the kind of "renaissance man" who dabbles in every form of art imaginable while being soul-crushingly mediocre in every one of them. In Franco's case, the word prolific does not equal the word talented.
He's a mediocre actor, writer, director, poet, painter and whatever form of art he's taken on last week. The last thing he lacks is ambition, so it's entirely possible for him to create a formidable work of art if he stopped spreading himself so thin and perhaps focused on one project longer than it would take for the masses to consume it.
The quickest way to describe Child of God, Franco's insanely misguided adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's controversial novel about a man who becomes so disconnected from society that he gradually morphs into a murderer and a necrophiliac, is "Glorified student film". Shot with bland digital photography that resembles a cheap reality show a lot more than a narrative feature, it contains more than a whiff of freshman art school level pretentiousness as obvious attempts at cheap shock value are clumsily wrapped around a supposed examination of the possible depths of human depravity under extreme solitude.
In 1960s Tennessee, Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) is an odd man who lives out in the woods, away from society. As he removes himself more and more from human contact, he satisfies his many urges through inanimate objects and the occasional masturbation while watching teen couples having sex in cars by the side of the road. One day, he comes upon a dead couple in a car and decides to take the woman into his extremely humble abode as his de facto girlfriend. Gradually, he decides to pursue a, shall we say, polyamorous relationship.
As simple yet raw and possibly stomach-churning McCarthy's minimalist original work is, there's definitely merit in exploring the possible degeneracy of human beings even in the middle of a modern civilization. There's no reason a film adaptation of his novel shouldn't exist, but this is the kind of challenging and delicate material that should be handled by an experienced and fearless director with a clear vision. As many issues I have with Lars Von Trier, he could have knocked this one out of the park. It might not have worked, but at least it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting and engaging.
Franco drags out the many grotesque necrophilia scenes in his grossly overlong vanity project in order to perhaps pull the audience out of their comfort zone by forcing them to identify with Lester. However, the flat visual approach and a dull lack of aesthetics incite boredom more than any other feeling.
One might argue that a lack of style might be indicative of Franco's desire to show the audience Lester's inherent ugliness without the filter of artistry but the end result looks less like an attempt at a Dogme callback and more like "We need to hurry because Mr. Franco's going to direct five more features before the end of the year."
If there's any possible saving grace to be found here, it's in Scott Haze's organically intense performance. Here's a natural talent who deserves better material and a much better director.
Reviewers usually complain if they see too much video noise on a particular transfer. Child of God looks so clear and bland, that some noise would have been welcome. I guess this is a loyal 1080p transfer but it looks like it was ported directly from Final Cut Pro without any color correction. Considering the whole film feels like an unfinished rough cut, that's not much of a stretch.
It seems like Franco's playing a clever performance art trick on the audience as he presents two options on the disc, a DTS-HD 5.1 track and a DTS-HD 2.0 track, both of which sound like mono mixes. I would be hard-pressed to name a single occurrence of surround presence during the 5.1 track and I didn't notice any panning on the stereo offering. The dialogue and occasional score sounds clear, but don't expect much.
We only get a Trailer.
Trusting James Franco with a film adaptation of Child of God is like expecting an infant who just learned how to walk to win The New York City Marathon. It's lazy and uninspired filmmaking at its worst.