James FrancoUSA114 minutes2016ColourEnglish
James Franco directs and stars alongside a fine cast — including Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Selena Gomez and Nat Wolff — in this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel about two labour organizers trying to unionize exploited California fruit pickers.
Where does James Franco find the time? Between acting gigs he has managed to forge an entirely separate career as a director, recently carving his way through some of the literary masterworks of the American canon: Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, and now John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle, first published in 1936. Transposed into an assertive and compelling film in the hands of the multi-faceted Franco, this is an atmospheric story about a fight for a better life in the working classes.
Set in the orchards of California Valley in the dirty '30s, Steinbeck's tale follows two young idealists from "The Party" who are appalled by the orchards' terrible working conditions and set out to organize the fruit pickers. Having arrived from out of town, Mac McLeod (Franco) and Jim Nolan (Nat Wolff ) are met with skepticism and some outright hostility when they first suggest unionizing. Most of the pickers simply want to work and get paid, even if they are being mercilessly exploited. Mac and Jim realize that their progress depends on convincing local elder Al Anderson (Vincent D'Onofrio). He's a hard nut, but could be won over after Mac helps his daughter-in-law, Lisa (Selena Gomez), when she goes into labour. Surrounding the two activists is a cast of eclectic characters with varying loyalties, among them the ruthless orchard owner (Robert Duvall), who is determined to crack down on any strike action.
Franco goes right to the heart of Steinbeck's novel. He captures the intense strife between embattled workers and their entrenched opposition, while placing personal relationships against the larger picture of Depression-era politics. This is a meticulously detailed film, fuelled by righteous outrage.