GEORGE WASHINGTON(director/writer: David Gordon Green; cinematographer: Tim Orr; editors: Steven Gonzales/Zene Baker; music: Michael Linnen, David Wingo, Andrew Gillis, Brian McBride and Mazinga Phaser; cast: Scott Clackum (Augie), Curtis Cotton III (Buddy), Jonathan Davidson (Euless), Candace Evanofski (Nasia), Christian Gustoitis (Tyler), Rachael Handy (Sonya), Donald Holden (George), Damian Jewan Lee (Vernon), Eddie Rouse (Damascus), Paul Schneider (Rico Rice), Jason Shirley (Lancaster), Janet Taylor (Ruth); Runtime: 89; Cowboy Booking International; 2000)
“In its simplicity and realism, the film scores points and makes a believer out of me that a teen film about rag-tag kids could be so absorbing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A sleepy impoverished small Southern town (It was filmed in North Carolina) is the setting for this Gummo-like tale, but without the exploitation factor. David Gordon Green has directed and written a honey of a film for his debut. The dreamlike, slowly paced and bleak film is narrated by Nasia (Candace Evanofski), who is a 12-year-old African-American. It captures the episodes of mostly black adolescents and their goofy adult counterparts who are mostly white and are part of a railroad repair crew. They all go about their business in a relaxed manner a few days before the 4th of July, as the film culminates with a parade where Uncle Sam appears.
For half the film we watch the kids interact and in their quiet way try to express their feelings, as this plotless film unfolds by relying entirely on the genuine nature of the kids and the sweeping lush photography of Tim Orr. George Richardson (Donald Holden) is a 13-year-old who lives with his sweet Aunt Ruth and hot-tempered, dog hating Uncle Damascus, as his mother is dead. George’s very quiet and sensitive, and is a dreamer. George suffers from a congenital head condition that has made him unable to immerse his head in water or else he could die. George’s head is so delicate that one shot to it and he could die, which is the reason he always wears a football helmet. When he gets fully into his hero role, George dresses up as a superhero with a cape. George wants to help people and be a hero, and as a loner he has a natural empathy for animals. George adopts an ugly flea-infested stray dog and plays with a ferret while waiting in church for his little sister to finish her rehearsal with the choir. For him, a hero is wise, strong and talented. His heroes are George Bush, World B Free, and The Great Wall of China. George wants to one day be the president. There’s a quiet inner strength that attracts this cute girl Nasia to him. She has just dumped George’s friend Buddy because he was immature. Nasia is more taken with George than he is of her. She has so much confidence in him that she calls him George Washington, and looks to him as someone who could live forever.
The kids play and converse amidst the heaps of junk and metal scraps in the fields. The African-American girls have an amusing girl talk session about romance, while the boys are more interested in honing their athletic and fighting skills. The film’s main event occurs in the public bathroom. The blonde 9-year-old white girl Sonya and her auto thief partner and love interest, the gentle giant Vernon, and their friends Buddy and George, wandered into it to cleanup after playing outside. The boys start horsing around and George pushes Buddy, who falls on his head and dies. The kids decide to coverup this accident and dump Buddy’s body where it is hard to find. After that incident, the group breaks up and each searches for their own identity and in the process becomes more mature. George becomes a hero saving a drowning boy swimming alone in a pool and does so despite risking a serious injury because of his condition.
This was a special film for many reasons, not the least being the easy way it handles the integration of the races. The cast of non-professional actors is able to deliver the real goods. When compared to the bevy of teen films playing the multiplexes, this one has a natural feel and power; in fact, it resembles a documentary. In its simplicity and realism, the film scores points and makes a believer out of me that a teen film about rag-tag kids could be so absorbing.
REVIEWED ON 5/27/2001 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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