I first read Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) at the end of the nineties and was blown away by it. Since then it has become one of my favourite novels and one that I’ve re-read a dozen times or more. When I heard that James Franco (Pineapple Express) was directing a feature adaptation of the novel I was concerned, excited and concerned some more. Franco, someone I had seen nothing by in terms of directing, seemed like an odd director and it worried me that a story of such darkness wouldn’t be given the proper respect.
Fast-forward to this week and the DVD release of “Child of God” in the UK and I am feeling a certain burst of relief.
Child of God follows the character Lester Ballard, played with a fantastic intensity and madness by Scott Haze, a pariah who lives outside of society and is thought of as a menace and villain by those who know of him. The story follows Ballard as he battles with the judgements of his tormentors and his own demons. With no family or friends, and a past that forced him to fend for himself, Ballard falls deeper into a terrible state of inhumanity and sickness.
Scott Haze deserved much credit for his portrayal of Lester Ballard. He puts himself entirely into the character and allows the schizophrenic and feral nature of Ballard to shine through with a dirty, dribbling and shit covered scream. I was taken aback by the power and authenticity of the performance, and much like my feeling of awe when I first read the novel, I watched this performance captivate, disgust and repulse in equal measure, bringing a depth to Lester Ballard in ways that I was concerned would never occur on screen.
This is an uncomfortable film to watch in many ways and deals with topics that are truly horrific and terrible, but the fact that Franco and Haze refused to succumb to the pressure of whether to show the horror or not is worth patting them on the back for. The grotesque fall of Lester Ballard is shown like a bird falling from a tree before being eaten by the forest around it as it dies. It’s an amazing thing to see, but also something that won’t appeal to everyone, and might even upset many.
A rarity in film, watching a character of such flawed ideals and terrible choices, Child of God is an odd little picture that might well fall into “cult” status over time. Regardless of these matters, I felt like the surroundings and characterisations were very loyal to the literature and James Franco did a commendable job as director, allowing a lead performance to shine in a very brave and aggressive way. Brilliant, respectful and disgusting, this has quickly become one of the best films I’ve seen in the past couple of years.
Child of God is available now on DVD through Signature Entertainment.