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You can't blame James Franco for trying with Cormac McCarthy's 'Child of God'

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'Child of God'

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James Franco gets an A for effort but his movie, “Child of God,” has some problems. This week, on Wed., July 30, 2014, Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with Franco and leading man Scott Haze to discuss the film.

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The movie is based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name. Franco has a penchant for choosing great literary works to act in, adapt to screenplays, and direct. The problem is the prose was never meant for the movie medium. There have been wonderful successes with Cormac McCarthy books-to-film projects with the most notable being the Coen Brothers’ five star film, “No Country for Old Men.” Billy Bob Thornton directed “All the Pretty Horses,” which wasn’t bad and John Hillcoat directed “The Road”, but the movie was only meh.

Franco just hasn’t hit his stride yet as a director. His nearly un-filmable literature-based movies included “Broken Tower” based on poet Hart Crane, which was torture to sit through, and “As I Lay Dying,” based on Faulkner, which was an eensy bit better. “Palo Alto,” which is based on Franco’s short stories, was better but Gia Coppola wrote the screenplay and directed that one. He also starred in “Howl” as Allen Ginsberg and that one was interesting.

Franco does deserve our respect, though. He is an excellent actor and an accomplished man In addition to acting, writing and directing, the 36-year-old is also an artist and musician. Oh, and he’s a student at Yale in a Ph.D. English program.

So, let’s be fair and first discuss the good things about “Child of God” first. Scott Haze deserves an Oscar for playing the deranged and violent necrophiliac, Lester Ballard. To get into the right headspace he left L.A. and his iPhone and went to Tennessee for three months.

During the interview he said, “The reason I went to Tennessee is I knew I couldn’t prepare for this role in Los Angeles. I had to do a lot of work. I had to lose the muscle, grow hair everywhere. When I was isolated in Tennessee I really got to see what it’s like to have those times when you’re talking to yourself, which added to the performance, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t isolated myself for that period of time. Just the mumbling, the things that go through somebody’s head when they spend too much time alone.”

“Child of God” is also a fascinating story and to his credit Franco didn’t exploit it. Franco told the Examiner, “Even though Lester’s actions are disgusting, atrocious and wrong, they’re coming from a place that’s very human. It’s a movie with necrophilia but it’s not a movie that relies on that, or thrives on that like a thriller or a gross-out movie that’s banking on the disgusting horror kind of nature of his actions. It’s more of a character study using his extreme actions as a way to talk about more universal things. If Lester were real none of us would condone what he does but within a fictional framework he’s a monster through which hopefully we can see something of ourselves.”

So, what went wrong? The movie had a lot of repetition in it. We got how depraved Lester Ballard was after the third, fourth, fifth time we saw him scurrying around the woods talking to himself. And frankly, there was way too much mucous. While disgusting runny noses and flying spittle are common in McCarthy novels, it’s really too gross to look at on screen; stomach turning actually.

If the film had been 30 minutes it might’ve been a masterpiece. But all this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go see the film. It is totally worth seeing. The point is just don’t expect “No Country for Old Men.”

“Child of God” opened in New York City on August 1, 2014. Crime drama. Rated R. 104 min.

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