David Gordon Green, the young director of George Washington, has done a truly remarkable thing — he has created a film of rare beauty and power that never for a second lets on the fact that its an independent film made for an extremely low budget.
The film plays like the work of a mature filmmaker, and it is not surprising to find that the director is an enormous fan of Terrence Malick (he keeps a photo of him in his wallet.) Green’s film is an obvious antidote to the shock MTV cut tactics and low production values that plague many independent features. Going back to a more graceful era of filmmaking, the movie nonetheless escapes from appearing nostalgic or conservative. This is filmmaking with the first word underlined, gorgeous natural light photography and magic-hour moments used to capture a quirky and charming tale of a bunch of kids in the Southern United States.
George Washington is all the more remarkable because it is a political film without dogmatism, a quietly ideological film without a negative agenda, philosophical without being didactic. Even so overtly patriotic a device as a 4th of July parade lacks the smugness usually presented along with such displays.
The performances are absolutely amazing given how teens are usually portrayed on screen. Green chose a group of untrained people (culled from church groups, bowling alleys, etc.) to create what amounts to an ensemble cast. Colour blind and age blind, the situation is somewhat idealized, with the kids and adults talking as peers.
The whole film plays out in natural tones — no sense at all that any of the actions are merely plot devices meant to drive the narrative. The conclusions drawn are ambiguous, all the more to emphasise the heightened reality of the film’s texture. It is as if Green sets events into motion early in he film and has the patience and maturity to let things go where they should.
The is one of the best first feature films I’ve ever seen — nothing about this film seems cheep or a compromise, yet the film was shot in two weeks, with two weeks of prep. and eight weeks of editing, a remarkably short time for a film of this clarity and power.
Green is to be congratulated for getting his vision intact upon the screen. To his collaborators, from Director of Photography and Art Director to the rest of the crew and cast, it is hoped that you know that your sacrifices and long hours were well worth the final product. This is certainly a director to watch out for in the future.