Motion pictures can be chaotic, confusing and unorthodox at times. We’re always watching and anticipating for something that’s way out of left field. But even when we the audience feels prepared we get a curveball thrown our way that baffles us. We get a film that is dark, challenges social norms and completely pushes the envelope. After all, that is what the arts are supposed to do on a consistent basis.
“I’ve heard people like Spielberg say, ‘When you come across something that interests or inspires you maybe you don’t know all the reasons at the moment why you want to make it. You don’t really need to know but you can kind of explore it through the creative process.’ So I guess I had that hair is tingling on the back of my neck feeling. I knew it was a very dark book. I knew it was a way to talk about things that are universal. This need for a connection with someone outside of ourselves”, explained Academy Award nominee James Franco with regard to his one hundred and four minute long adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s classic 1973 novel Child of God.
Franco encountered the sinister novel seven years ago while taking a course on McCarthy’s works at UCLA as part of his undergraduate studies as an English major concentrating in creative writing. Like the book the film captures McCarthy’s obsessive interests of using extreme isolation, perversity and violence while exploring the human experience in the visual sense. It is extremely graphic in tone, narrative and action.
This isn’t the first time Franco has directed a film which is violent and sexually explicit in nature, but it may be his best effort yet.
The film has already made the rounds with its world premiere at the 70th Venice Film Festival being selected to be screened in an official completion. It also became the official selections of the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and the 51st New York Film Festival. Since then the film has drawn rave reviews due to the ominous nature of the subject matter captured on screen; even while possessing subtle differences to the unconventional written form presented by McCarthy forty years earlier. It has drawn additional praise for the brilliant work of Scott Haze as the ultraviolent sociopathic protagonist Lester Ballard. Because of the spot on portrayal of Ballard Haze has now been named as Variety’s “10 Actors to Watch” – past members of this list comprise of such talents as Adrien Brody, Jennifer Lawrence and Octavia Spencer.
“I’m well aware that this is a movie with disturbing subject matter that is not for everyone”, Franco told reporters attending a press screening at the New York Film Festival. “But I don’t think anyone that has eyes can deny that Scott gives an incredible performance. So I’m very proud that exists. I’ve known Scott for ten years. Over the ten years I saw him go through some very dark personal things in his life. He kind of came through all of that and became a better man on the other side.”
Upon receiving the rights to the novel Franco immediately contacted Haze after learning he had put his personal issues behind him. Franco was hoping to get the “best of both worlds” by having Haze on board, banking on him to draw from those dim moments of his past while maintaining his professionalism. “You see this with a lot of actors. It’s like the one role where they just go for it. They just go to extremes to prepare. I knew that Scott was ready to do that”, shared Franco about his decision to cast Haze.
For his part Haze moved to Sevier County, Tennessee where the novel takes place and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) lived for some time. He secluded himself in the woods splitting time between living in a cabin and nearby caves. On a daily basis Haze consumed a diet of only apples and one fish which caused him to drop close to fifty pounds. He also worked diligently on his speech, posture, walk plus several physical and mental attributes for the Ballard character. It has been said that his only contact with the outside world during his preparation was an iPod loaded with Eminem tracks. By the time Franco arrived for shooting he found Haze in full embodiment of the character.
Child of God is slated to make its official New York Film Festival debut on September 29th at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. The film is part of a main slate of thirty six films that will be shown during the festival. It is certainly one that should not be missed.