The powerful coming of age drama GEORGE WASHINGTON, originally released thirteen years ago, brought with it the arrival of a major new player on the American independent cinema scene: writer/director David Gordon Green. Since his critically acclaimed début Green has continued to explore stories in various troubled microcosms within his homeland, to somewhat more modest receptions (ALL THE REAL GIRLS, UNDERTOW, SNOW ANGELS) while also later launching a commercially successful, if rather more critically erratic career directing raunchy studio comedies (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, YOUR HIGHNESS, THE SITTER).
Not even forty years old, it is entirely possible that Green is still to explore more genres, more styles and make his best ever work. But whatever the case may be, surely no work he goes on to produce will be ever be as visceral and as as unwavering in its design as that striking first outing.
… though coated in a sense of quiet despair, GEORGE WASHINGTON proves to be an emotionally nourishing experience.
Ostensibly about the regret felt after a moment of wild panic, GEORGE WASHINGTON is a mood poem set in a bleak small town in the rural heartland of North Carolina over a steamy, listless summer. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the ease with which it installs the viewer into a vivid, fully realised, unhurried world with such a sense of confidence that you forget the the hand guiding the way is in fact a first time feature auteur. Perhaps equally remarkable is that this world in which Green has successfully created for himself is dominated by the hardest set of characters to portray with any sense of credibility: children. It should be a recipe for disaster, or at least of trite devices and easy manipulation, but Green offers no easy answers for his characters nor his audience; and though haunting and coated in a sense of quiet despair, GEORGE WASHINGTON proves to be an emotionally nourishing experience.
From the onset, the pounding sun seems to hang like an albatross around our young, weary lead characters as they make their way through the never ending dirt roads, catching up on the local gossip, sometimes digressing with the older, often altogether kooky members within the community. Like many fictional small town explorations before it, here the characters, young and old, seem forever destined to wrestle with the want to abandon versus the need to be purposeful and ‘Good’. Though the film’s tone is not blatantly carrying with it a heavy pulse, Green does nevertheless generate probing questions about the nature of consequence, about whether wrongs can ever be corrected and to what, if any extent the veil of youth can lessen the impact of needless tragedy.
A welcoming attribute is the dialogue, which veers from highly authentic to a more mannered literary styling, the subjects of which range from charmingly infantile to a profound, unfiltered anguish. The sum of these parts never establishes an easy, detectable rhythm but allows for a circumspect, more inferred experience, making what could have been a standard twelve bar blues a more jazz chord infused treat.