Child of God (2013) *****
Dir. James Franco
Starring: Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Everybody knows you never go full retard...Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, 'Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, "Being There." Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, "I Am Sam." Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed..." - Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder
You see, Lester's pappy's gone and done hung hissef' and in the process, left his son with nothing and nobody. The family farm has been auctioned off and our hero, shotgun in hand, takes to an old hunting shack in the deep woods where he lives out his life on game (he's a durn' tootin' crack shot) and the occasional stolen chicken from the prissy, white-haired gentleman farmer who now owns the former Ballard plantation. Sheriff Fate (Tim Black Nelson) and Deputy Cotton (Jim Parrack) keep a healthy watch on Lester since the boy occasionally flies off the handle and needs to be given some quality rest time in a padded cell.
They seem oddly sympathetic to Lester, but ultimately, what can they really do when mysteriously naughty shenanigans occur in the county? They've gotta target someone. After all, our boy Lester is just plumb crazy.
Lester is also a full-bodied young lad and when he discovers a lovers' lane area in the backwoods, he develops a healthy penchant for peeping through the back seat windows of parked cars. As the vehicles bob up and down with the strokes of amore, the dulcet tones of grunts and moans wafting through the air, Lester handily (so to speak) beats his meat to the proceedings.
One morning, he spies a vehicle still running. In the back seat are the bodies of a young couple locked in a lovers' embrace and they are stone-cold from carbon monoxide poisoning. With keen interest, Lester notices that the young lady is awful purty. Hmmm. What's an ornery country boy with a hard-on supposed to do in a situation like this?
Well, he does what no Oscar-winning performance will ever be acknowledged for. And he does it repeatedly - only subsequent recipients of his man-juice are not stupid enough to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Luckily for Lester, he's mighty handy with a shotgun.
Franco has managed to do the near impossible. He renders a character - especially via Haze's performance, who gains our empathy to a point where we even get the "Oh, for Christ's sake, Lester, ya' shouldn't oughtta be doin' that" feeling.
Child of God is a genuine triumph. Franco handles the picture with verve and style. He even manages to utilize chunks of McCarthy's prose in a series of odd "conversational" voice-overs and literal title cards splashing across the screen. I loved this technique. It was fun AND rooted the film in the glorious American literary tradition of Southern Gothic. Franco elicits a wide range of great performances and his actual coverage and composition of the dramatic action feels like the work of someone who's been directing movies his whole career.
The movie is grotesque, at times sickening and often shocking, but it is rooted in genuine humanity and is easily one of the best movies of the year.
"Child of God" is a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2013). Part of me wishes it was a Gala. I'd have paid premium scalper prices to witness the stuffed-shirt-richie-rich response of some of the assholes who go to those things. In the meantime, this is one hot ticket item and feel free to visit the TIFF website HERE to secure a shot at seeing this great movie.