Friday November 24, 2000
David Gordon Green's "George Washington" evokes the South of all those stories set in small towns where a slow pace of life combines with poverty to provide sensitive individuals--children in particular--with plenty of time to daydream.
Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and Truman Capote, among many other writers, have given such dreaminess poetic expression, and that is what Green and his greatly gifted cameraman Tim Orr, working in CinemaScope, have done in an ambitious and distinctive feature debut.
This leisurely story, which floats shimmeringly across the screen, can certainly be called a coming-of-age drama, but one that unfolds within the imagination of its key figures, principally a pretty, very bright and self-confident 12-year-old girl, Nasia (Candace Evanofski), and the equally intelligent and good-looking George (Donald Holden), to whom she decides to give her heart.
Seeing him as a superhero, she calls him George Washington. In zeroing in on George, Nasia has rejected the diminutive, younger-looking Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), a sweet-natured boy thoughtful about his troubled mother.
In Nasia's loving view, George could grow up to be president of the United States. She wants to see him fly, and on a more realistic note, she wants to see him lead a parade on the Fourth of July, only several days away. As it happens, Nasia's view of him reinforces George's response to a tragic event, causing him to intensify his desire to become a good-deeds-doing hero.
George and Nasia are observant, reflective youngsters. They live in a notably harmonious multiracial neighborhood hard by the railroad tracks, where George spends a lot of time playing with other youngsters; Nasia is often seen in the company of older girls and women, none of whom have much good to say about the men in their lives. George and his pals hang out with a group of railroad workers who seem on a near-perpetual lunch break and who take a kindly interest in them.
There's a river nearby too, but the idyllic setting is scarred by an overlaying postindustrial landscape of abandoned factories and scattered debris. The atmosphere is mainly warm, easygoing and good-humored, although George's Uncle Damascus (Eddie Rouse) is overcome by a hopelessness that is consuming him with rage. Along the way, we learn that George has a delicate skull that requires him to wear a football helmet much of the time.
Just as we begin to fear for his safety, that incident occurs, transforming not only George but also two other witnesses:, a little girl named Sonya (Rachael Handy) and a big, amiable, thoughtful kid, Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee), who, though innocent, is consumed by guilt and fear.
George is so detached, so self-possessed, you really do believe he could do just about anything he wanted to do with his life, considering how coolly he can place everything that happens to him in perspective.
By and large, Green's approach, verging on stream of consciousness, is as successful as it is unusual. In working with nonprofessionals, Green does not entirely avoid a bit of self-consciousness here and there. And at times his people seem exceptionally articulate and reflective, given their socioeconomic status, with its presumed limited educational opportunities. Maybe it's all that time on their hands, maybe Green is unusually generous in his view of how plentiful truly reflective people are, but perhaps people do ponder their thoughts, actions and deeds to a greater extent than we realize.
If you can't fully embrace Green's view of people, you are likely to feel that his film does not always ring true, even taking into consideration its stylized, deliberately amorphous quality. Yet "George Washington" is so refreshingly distinctive in its bold lyricism that you can easily get carried away by it.
Suffice it to say that "George Washington" is one of the most striking and affecting American independent films of the year, heralding the arrival of a formidable young talent in Green.
George Washington, 2000. Unrated. A Cowboy Booking International release of a Blue Moon Productions and Code Red presentation. Writer-director David Gordon Green. Producers Green, Sacha W. Mueller, Lisa Muskat. Executive producer Sam Froelich. Cinematographer Tim Orr. Editors Steven Gonzales, Zene Baker. Music Michael Linnen, David Wingo, Andrew Gillis, Brian McBride, Mazinga Phaser. Art director Richard Wright. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Candace Evanofski as Nasia. Donald Holden as George. Curtis Cotton III as Buddy. Eddie Rouse as Damascus.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times