A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Sound and the Fury (James Franco, 2014)

James Franco gets mocked for overreaching -- writing fiction, directing avant-garde films and multimedia art, taking graduate level courses at a variety of universities simultaneously -- and for what many see as an eccentric persona. So I don't want to come off as a mocker in my criticism of his film version of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. It's a failure for a variety of reasons, not least the extreme difficulty of translating into visual terms a novel that succeeds in the way its author uses language to convey the inner states of his characters. Franco makes the serious mistake of casting himself as the most interior and inarticulate of Faulkner's characters, the mentally handicapped Benjy Compson. Distractingly outfitted with oversize front teeth, Franco struggles to portray Benjy's torment at the loss of his beloved sister Caddy (Ahna O'Reilly), amid the declining fortunes of the Compson family. He can't dim the intelligence in his own eyes enough to suggest the blind struggle of memory and desire and frustration within the character. The screenplay by Matt Rager, who has also adapted Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (2013) and John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle (2016) for Franco to direct, does a fairly good job of sticking to the narrative line of the novel: Benjy's loss, the suicide of his older brother Quentin (Jacob Loeb), the marriage that Caddy enters into because she is impregnated by Dalton Ames (Logan Marshall-Green), Caddy's sending her daughter, also named Quentin (Joey King), to live with the Compsons, and the rage of the youngest brother, Jason (Scott Haze), when the teenage Quentin runs away from home with the money he has hoarded after stealing it from the funds Caddy has sent for Quentin's support. Rager also draws heavily on the sententious speeches of the Compson children's ineffectual alcoholic father (Tim Blake Nelson), taken directly from the novel. The screenplay skimps on the key role played in the novel by the black servants, particularly that of Dilsey (Loretta Devine). Most of the performances are quite good, with the exception of Janet Jones Gretzky as the mother; she looks far too healthy, and never strikes the note of decayed gentility that the role demands. There are also some unnecessarily distracting cameos by Seth Rogen as a telegraph clerk and Danny McBride as the sheriff, bit parts that didn't need to be cast so prominently. As a whole, the film feels like the work of an amateur filmmaker with exceptional film industry connections, and that, I guess, is the very definition of overreaching.