Nothing could've prepared me for the depressing qualities of David Gordon Green's quiet masterwork George Washington. The film operates with such simplicity, yet such brave, unrefined naturalism that it becomes almost too much for your system to handle and processing it becomes more and more of a challenge. If there is a sadder, more minimalistic film out there I don't want to see it anytime soon.
George Washington meshes the desolate loneliness of Gummo, the close friendships of Stand By Me, and the realism of teens from Kids and puts it to the backdrop of the urban decay shown in Boyz N The Hood. However, the film never feels like a cheap copy of any of those films. They share the same themes, function with similar imagery and auteur-like craft, but in no way do they feel like cheap replications of great cinema from years past. Green manages to infuse his own portrait of a decaying setting and successfully combine it with the pristine acting of the child actors and the beautifully haunting cinematography to make one of the best films I've seen this summer.
The film revolves around four friends - Buddy, George, Sonya, and Vernon - all of whom are around twelve years old and live in the dilapidated urban area of North Carolina. They spend their days wandering around town, talking aimlessly amongst themselves, or just watching life passing them by, not taking advantage of its opportunities because the landscape is such a desolate roadblock to anywhere. One day, tragedy strikes and is inflicted by the titular character, a troubled soul already due to a skull-condition that greatly limits physical contact with friends. The four must now learn to cope with tragedy and deal with a situation like adults, when no one adults have given them any practical guidance or life advice in their lives.
The film is almost totally plot less. Even when the tragedy strikes, not much is predicated off of it. The entire film isn't directly encapsulated off of that instance, and goes on to develop long after it happens, showing more and more problems the characters faced even before this happened. Consider George, who now lives with the thought that his lack of human interaction practically sheltered him in life and now he has the notion that when he does engage in contact it'll end badly. Vernon must now live with the nudging thought that nobody really cared about what happened. Sonya remarks how she has the inability to feel, even after something as serious as what just happened. She is an unmoved child, likely made that way by a bleak landscape with little opportunities and little order from parents. And Buddy is now crushed after his girlfriend just left him. I wanted to hug each one of these characters for an obscenely amount of time.
That is because David Gordon Green knows how to make a story like this progress with subtly and poetic tendencies. The poetry on display comes largely from Tim Orr's cinematography, which is beautiful in the sense that is shows heat, decay, isolation, loneliness, sadness, and fear more than any screenplay could. When Green allows Orr's cinematography to do the talking and places the characters in the background is when George Washington is its strongest. I never thought I'd say something like that, being a lover of relatable, fully fleshed-out characters and extensive dialog.
The less said about George Washington thematically the better. It's a film with minimalism just elaborate enough to make a point but just ambiguous enough to encourage thought and contemplation. Within the next few weeks, I will make it a priority to explore more of David Gordon Green's filmography; George Washington is the best start any filmmaker could ask for.
Starring: Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, and Paul Schneider. Directed by: David Gordon Green.