When I originally saw the trailer for James Franco’s Child of God, I thought, Wow! They just might need to nominate that film for an Academy Award. Six months later, having seen the film, I think they just might need to nominate the guy who made that trailer. This is not to say that Child of God is awful so much as it is to say that James Franco’s adaptation is slow, laborious, and relentlessly vulgar about more than it needs to be.
An outlaw shitting in the woods, then wiping his ass with a twig? James Franco’ll throw that at you during the film’s first 15 minutes. That same man jerking off, then blowing his load onto a car? James Franco’ll edit the sound to make you feel the slap of jizz.
On The Colbert Report, Franco explained his goal as such: “I wanted to take this on – this guy, who is doing some of the worst things possible – and make a watchable movie; make a movie where the audience is not repelled.” While there are several terms one might apply to Child of God, “watchable” is not any of them. What Franco – and the movie – are after is a stark portrayal of the everyday atrocities American culture glazes over, ignoring human trespass until it eventually becomes them.
Like most Cormac McCarthy adaptations, this one features an open canvas, bleak horizons, and dried-out remnants of a world gone wrong. The lead acting is phenomenal, and James Franco – a fantastic actor and equally intriguing human being – has come a long way in a short time as a director. But Child of God proves his films still don’t feature any real form of engagement, which is fine in terms of thesis, yet weak in terms of drama.
(Child of God opens in limited release today.)