James Franco may or may not be a promising filmmaker, but he’s not afraid of failure. You’ve got to give him that. Twice, the 38-year-old multi-hyphenate has attempted to rope the byzantine narratives of William Faulkner into a cinematic structure—2013’s As I Lay Dying and 2014’s The Sound And The Fury—and both times he came up short. So, he’s doing the only logical thing and moving laterally over to Faulkner’s contemporary in bleak Americana, John Steinbeck, with an adaptation of In Dubious Battle.
The 1936 novel gives a fictionalized account of an apple pickers’ strike in central California three years earlier. Along with his supremely impressive cast, including Robert Duvall, Bryan Cranston, Selena Gomez, Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, and Vincent D’Onofrio, Franco seems to be gunning for an epic. The cinematography, by newcomer Bruce Thierry Cheung, is certainly holding up its end—the question is whether Franco and screenwriter Matt Rager can imbue the rest of it with a momentous quality worthy of its source material and stable of actors.
We’ll hopefully know a little more after In Dubious Battle premieres at the Venice Film Festival on September 3. It remains unknown when The Man will allow it to go into wide release.