Director-star James Franco couldn’t have found a more fertile moment than this season of protest to unveil his film about impoverished apple pickers organizing to fight brutal wage cuts in fictional Torgas Valley, Central California.
Based on the 1936 John Steinbeck novel by Matt Rager, whose two William Faulkner adaptations were directed by Franco, In Dubious Battle proves a well-meaning muddle. It’s also too strident to bear comparison with such potent labor agitation films as John Ford’s Steinbeck classic The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and John Sayles’s Matewan (1987).
Yet it’s one of those flawed films you watch for its formidable cast. Though dominated by Franco and Nat Wolff as former Communist agitator Mac McLeod and his maturing protegé Jim Nolan, actors like Ed Harris (as a much-beaten old “Wobbly”), Sam Shepard (as a decent landowner), Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Bryan Cranston, and John Savage enrich the tense, lowering atmosphere.
The actresses Selina Gomez, Ahna O’Reilly, and Analeigh Tipton ground the story of a desperate endeavor consistently betrayed by male arrogance, aggression, and hatred. Ashley Greene is unplea