Child of God (R)

Drama 104 min. August 1, 2014
By Sam Weisberg
If director/co-writer James Franco had retitled his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 1973 novel Child of God to A Man's Love for a Corpse, he'd have a more honest film on his hands -- not to mention a purposefully campy one. But no such luck. Franco, his co-collaborator Vince Jolivette, and star Scott Haze appear to regard this outlandish outcast-against-the-world saga with utmost solemnity. As it stands, Child of God is brazenly, outstandingly bad, as vague, pretentious, and pointless as its sorry title. Set in rural Tennessee (but shot in rural West Virginia), Child of God tries to make a tragic antihero out of Lester Ballard (Haze), a mush-mouthed, rifle-toting redneck. A prologue shows him losing his dead daddy's house to a greedy landowner. But if there's a reason to care for this character, Franco and Jolivette haven't provided any explanation more substantive than "society neglected him." One night, he finds a couple copulating in their car; he is caught masturbating near the car; he returns to find them dead from carbon monoxide poisoning; and he promptly defiles the deceased woman (Nina Ljeti) and makes her his secret trophy wife. In the most twisted take on a man's bonding with an inanimate object since Tom Hanks' love affair with Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away, Lester ends up with two carnival teddy bear prizes as his sole companions. They are alternately depicted as confidantes, voyeurs, and traitors (when, in the funniest scene, Lester shoots their feathered torsos to bits, on grounds of "treason.") Some may be moved by this impromptu execution; most, however, will deem Child of God god-awful.
James Franco Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, James Franco Cormac McCarthy Vince Jolivette, Caroline Aragon Well Go USA

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