Writer-director David Gordon Green saunters onto the American independent film scene with this languidly paced but beautifully shot film about a group of children and adults dealing with the joys and difficulties of life in a rural community of North Carolina.GEORGE WASHINGTON is about many things including the awkwardness of puberty, the trials of coming of age and the challenges that kids have when they face trouble. But it is also about the random circumstances that happen to one boy named George (Donald Holden) who becomes a hero by turning tragedy into hope.
The film is more than adequate in its dealings with adolescence and its humanitarian message is much deeper and lasting than anything recently in American independent cinema. Still, itís hard to recommend to everyone because it has its own faults including a script that works hard to be realistic but doesnít fully develop characters or situations and actors who torpidly improvise their way through many scenes.
The main character is a quiet kid named George who suffers from a skull condition that prevents him from going into water and is so acute that, to protect his head, he often wears a helmet. The one who narrates the film is Nasia (Candace Evanofski) a precocious 13-year-old who in the first scene is in the process of breaking up with Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) a young comical kid who wears big glasses. Each of the kids range in age from 9 to 13 but despite their age, director Green shows us that they are not devoid of guilt, anger, pity or the pangs of love.
At first everything is presented poetically as if Green just wants to create a time, a place and a mood but eventually a significant and disturbing story does emerge when one of the kids accidentally dies.
Stylistically GEORGE WASHINGTON recalls the films of Terrence Malick (DAYS OF HEAVEN and THIN RED LINE) with the use of naÔve philosophical voice-over, strong landscape compositions (shot in CinemaScope) and a new age type music score. The landscape is particularly strong: Greene infuses the landscape with dilapidated factory sites overgrown with weeds, railroad yards and acres of rural fields all around.GEORGE WASHINGTON is neither an earnest Capraesque type film about hero worship, nor is it as cynical, stupid or despairing as many films today that deal with kids (such as KIDS or GUMMO) but instead it fits into a category I would call humanitarian realism. This type of film we see a lot in Iran and Taiwan but rarely in America and for that reason itís recommended.-- Matt Langdon