Judge Clark Douglas feels this film takes some serious liberties with our nation's history.
Down this twisted road, please watch over my soul and lift me up gently so as not to touch the ground.
"I'm a hero because I like to save people's lives. Stuff like that."
Facts of the Case
David Gordon Green's debut feature film follows a boy named George (Donald Holden) and a handful of other African-American kids over the course of an ordinary summer in rural North Carolina. More of a tone piece than a traditional narrative, the film slowly reveals more and more about its characters by carefully examining the minutiae of everyday life in their world. When an unexpected tragedy strikes, George finds himself placed in a surprising position.
I realize that the above plot description is a little vague, but to describe the developments of the film's plot (which doesn't really kick into gear until midway through the film) would be to say entirely too much. As with many great films, David Gordon Green's George Washington is less about what happens than about how it happens. Or, as Roger Ebert might put it, it's less about what it is about than how it is about it. This is such an astonishingly good debut feature—it's no wonder that so many were convinced that Green might be the next Terrence Malick. While the director hasn't quite reached the potential he seemed to demonstrate with his early work, recent works like Prince Avalanche and Joe have found the director making an earnest effort to return to his roots.
Green reportedly watched Malick's The Thin Red Line on a daily basis while preparing to make the film, and the influence is immediately obvious. Though the subject matter is vastly different, Green seems to have fully absorbed the poetic gracefulness of Malick's editing style and the director's emphasis on capturing revealing, intimate moments rather than plotting. The constant visual appreciation of nature, the hushed awe, the understated dialogue and the naturalistic performances only add to the Malickian vibe, but it isn't a cheap imitation (Malick himself was clearly impressed with Green, as he later collaborated with the director on the 2004 feature Undertow). This is a movie of moments, perfectly realized despite their ephemeral nature.
Though you may recognize a few of the actors now (Paul Schneider—who plays a scruffy supporting character—would star in Green's All the Real Girls, while Eddie Rouse has stayed busy as a character actor in the years since the film's release), Green mostly opted for actors who had little to no experience. That's a risky proposition that often leads to stiff, awkward performances, but Green clearly understood who these characters were and which individuals would best serve those characters. Green met Donald Holden on a beach one day and simply asked him if he wanted to be in the movie, and that was that. Holden hasn't done anything else in the years since, but he's just perfect for the part, inhabiting his role with a relaxed ease—you never catch him acting.
George Washington (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection offers a terrific 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that highlights the film's gorgeous cinematography. Detail is terrific throughout, enabling the viewer to better appreciate the movie's terrific sense of place. The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is strong, delivering crisp, clean dialogue, immersive music and well-preserved sound design. Don't let the fact that it's not a surround track discourage you; it's quite effective. Supplements are mostly recycled from Criterion's previous DVD release: a commentary track with Green, cinematographer Tim Orr and Paul Schneider, two short films directed by Green ("Pleasant Grove" and "Physical Pinball"), a deleted scene, a Charlie Rose interview with Green, a handful of cast interviews, the 1969 short film "A Day With the Boys" (which influenced the movie), a trailer, a booklet featuring an essay by the controversial Armond White and a DVD copy of the film.
George Washington is an elegant, absorbing debut feature that is well worth revisiting (or seeing for the first time). Criterion's Blu-ray release does it justice.
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