George Washington Movie Review

What astonishes is not that George Washington is a good film, it's that the movie can tell such a powerful and complicated story in just 89 minutes. Its length is a telling reminder that length does not equal gravity. In fact, thinking over the last year or so of 2 1/2-hour-plus epics that never got around to saying much of anything, I'm inclined to believe that the opposite is true.

Recalling Days of Heaven and Sling Blade, George Washington takes us on a tour of the Deep South, centering on a preteen African-American named George (Richardson, not Washington -- played by Donald Holden), a boy whose skull bones have never fully developed. With his soft head, he wears a helmet wherever he goes and isn't allowed to go swimming, as the water would in some way soak into his brain, causing extreme pain.

George and his friends live the idle lives of teens on a near-permanent summer vacation, goofing off in the woods, breaking into abandoned buildings, stealing cars, and what have you. One day, the adventures get a little rough, and one of the children end up dead. Without really thinking about it, George and his friends simply cover it up, staging an accident and leaving the body to rot where it won't be found. And they go on with their lives.

But something changes within George, and he slowly begins assuming the role of a superhero. After risking his own life to save a drowning boy, he eventually dons a cape and dog-skin cap to direct traffic through his Podunk town. George's life gets ever more mysterious, and still the film's title is not explained.

It's a slow burn and harrowing ride through what would otherwise be a standard coming of age flick. Partly scripted and partly improvised following David Gordon Green's amazing direction (this is his first film), the junkyard panoramas and organ music that punctuate the movie belie a sophistication you wouldn't otherwise expect from a movie like this. George Washington will not be a film for all tastes (and a cryptic, pedestrian title won't have 'em rushing to the theaters), but the film is simply so urgent it's hard to ignore. Worth looking around for.

Thankfully, the film is finally being released on DVD with the full Criterion treatment, with commentary from Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider that answers a lot of nagging questions you might have, plus a handful of short films from Green's past, all exploring the George Washington universe (amazingly, none of them are very good). Skip the shorts. Stick with the movie. Highly recommended.

Here's to you, Mr. Washington.

Comments

George Washington Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2000

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