James Franco continues his cinematic ode to literary greats with Child of God, an adaption of the third novel by acclaimed American author Cormac McCarthy – whose name you will be seeing onscreen more often, as he is making his screenwriting debut this fall with the Ridley Scott crime thriller, The Counselor.
Child of God follows Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) a violent and depraved man of the Tennessee hill country, who one day finds himself stripped of land, home, possessions, and is, for all intents and purposes, cast out of society. Living in a cave like some hillbilly version of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, Ballard begins a rapid descent into madness and savage survivalism, soon terrorizing the community he was cast out of.
I don’t throw the word “masterpiece” around often, but Child of God (the novel) is a close qualifier. McCarthy is arguably the greatest living writer when it comes to pure prose (word composition) and Child of God flows smoothly, beautifully, cleanly (no quotation marks!) and often brutally, with laser-like vision about its wretched protagonist and the larger point about all that darkness that can – and is – contained within us “children of god.” It’s the type of book that makes other writers cry into pillows at night out of sheer envy – but does that mean it will work as a movie?
Believe me when I tell you that Ballard’s actions in the book get extreme. I could toss around terms like “cross-dressing,” “murder,” “repeated necrophilia” – and that would only be scratching the surface of the dark places the story (sometimes literally) explores. Actor Scott Haze is something of an unknown quantity in the lead role as Ballard; however, he worked on James Franco’s other big upcoming literary adaptation, As I Lay Dying, so maybe director Franco knows something we don’t?
There is something of an experiment going on right now in Hollywood, whereby the work and styles of literary heavyweights – like McCarthy or William Faulkner – are being faithfully adapted to the screen or shaped into blockbuster fare like The Counselor. The question is: Can the sort of writing that is such a pleasure to experience on the page, also bring similar pleasure to a movie-viewing audience?
It’s hard to call right now, but in the case of McCarthy, his last two books-turned-film (No Country for Old Men and The Road) banked $171 million and $27 million, respectively. That’s kind of a wide divide. If history’s pattern holds, The Counselor could be a success while the smaller-scale of Child of God will limit its appeal. Not to mention: we still have yet to see if Franco is up to the task of directing these films.
We’ll keep you updated on release date information for Child of God.