As I Lay Dying (tbc)

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Review byMatthew Turner12/10/2013

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

An admirable but problematic adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel from James Franco, which in its ambition distances the viewer from its many interesting characters.

What’s it all about?
The Bundren family are on a long arduous journey via horse and cart to Jefferson County with the aim of burying their recently deceased mother, encountering many difficulties along the way.

The Good
This is challenging material to adapt and it may just be that it’s not suited to cinematic revision, but Franco gets the black comedic edge correct even if much of its po-faced solemnity is difficult to take seriously. But there are a couple of moments that are superbly directed: a man on fire running from disaster, and a visceral accident in a fast running stream, both of which show promise for whatever filmic project Franco chooses next.

The Bad
Despite the skill with which Franco has used of the split screen (a combination of static and still images portraying the many different narrators of this tale) it seriously takes some getting used to, which in turn makes it difficult to get to know the characters. Once he stops using this style, at about the midway point, it becomes easier to become involved in the grief and internal monologues of the Bundren family.

Danny McBride (Your Highness) is cast as Vernon Tull and every time he appears on screen you expect him to crack a joke or say something obscene, highlighting just how this casting choice simply doesn’t work. In his younger days, acting in serious material such as David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls, his performance was believable but Franco doesn’t direct his actors with enough confidence as yet, leaving McBride unable to shed his large comedic persona.

Franco spends the entire film acting suspiciously as Darl Bundren, a grimace planted on his face and his private eyes watching his sister, Dewey Dell, closely. There’s no subtlety in the telling of this southern yarn with Franco aiming to evoke the haunting, hazy melodrama of Terrence Malick and sadly failing.

Worth seeing?
James Franco obviously has an affection for and understanding of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, but he just isn’t up to the job of adapting the material to cinematic form.

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Content updated: 20/07/2018 13:19

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