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George Washington Reviews

Stylized to the point of poetry, David Gordon Green's impressive debut fuses the lyricism of Terence Malick with Harmony Korine's willingness to poke around the garbage-strewn landscape of the American underclass. When it works, the effect is a little like Faulkner; when it fails it's a maddening exercise in willful obscurity. The film is set in an impoverished, rusted-out Southern town, and opens with a small heartbreak: 12-year-old Nasia (Candace Evanofski) tells her 13-year-old boyfriend Buddy (Curtin Cotton III) that it's all over. She's more interested in their friend George Richardson (Donald Holden), a soft-spoken orphan who wears a football helmet because the bones of his skull never properly fused, and lives with his aunt, Ruth (Janet Taylor), and his temperamental uncle, Damascus (Eddie Rouse). Nasia, George, Buddy and their friends Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee) and Sonya (Rachael Handy) spend the hot summer afternoons fooling around train yards and the park, until one afternoon a horrible, ironic accident occurs. While horsing around in an abandoned public restroom, George shoves Buddy, who hits his head and dies. Rather than go to the police, George, Vernon and Sonya hide his body. When George gets the opportunity to make up for the tragedy by saving another child's life, he begins to fancy himself a superhero for a world that desperately needs one. Hoping for naturalistic, organic performances, 24-year-old Green borrowed Mike Leigh's approach to filmmaking: Green and his entire cast and crew lived together in a North Carolina house, where they improvised a script based on little more than brief character sketches. But where Leigh collaborates with some of England's finest actors, Green worked with a group of non-professionals, and the result is far from naturalistic. At times it's almost surreal; the performances have a dazed, halting quality — particularly Evanofski's voice-over — that suits the film's dreamlike ambiance, but compounds its general lack of focus.