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|As I Lay Dying
dir James Franco
scr James Franco, Matt Rager
prd Caroline Aragon, Lee Caplin, Avi Lerner, Miles Levy, Vince Jolivette, Matthew O'Toole, Robert Van Norden
with James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Logan Marshall-Green, Jim Parrack, Ahna O'Reilly, Brady Permenter, Danny McBride, Beth Grant, Jesse Heiman, Scott Haze, Brian Lally, Jennifer Howell
release US 27.Sep.13, UK Oct.13 lff
On the road: Parrack and Franco
CANNES FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
For his first narrative feature as a director, Franco ambitiously adapts William Faulkner's notoriously grim novel. And what a surprise: the film is relentlessly downbeat, and pretty dull too. Franco may prove that he has a fresh visual eye, but the highly emotive story is oddly uninvolving.
As Addie (Grant) lies in her deathbed, her toothless husband Anse (Nelson) gathers their children for a send-off. Cash (Parrack) is sawing timber for the coffin, and Jewel (Marshall-Green) is riding his precious horse, while Darl (Franco) keeps everyone focussed, including their sister Dewey Dell (O'Reilly) and little brother Vard (Permenter). But Anse has promised to bury Addie's body in Jefferson, a three-day journey fraught with dangers mainly because they haven't a clue what they're doing. And each has a big issue to deal with along the way.
The film is an odd collection of scenes that feel rather theatrical, mainly because we see inside the thoughts of each character as they speak to the camera or show us their dreams. Shady secrets lurk everywhere in this family, and only some of the questions are answered for us. This wouldn't be a problem if the whole thing was more emotionally engaging, but the filmmaking itself builds a barrier we can't cross.
This isn't to say to say that the scenes aren't beautifully shot and evocatively edited, because they are. But Franco's use of split-screens fractures the point of view so we never get a subjective perspective. It's like we're a dispassionate deity watching these pathetic creatures struggle to make their way. At least this gives the actors plenty of character to crawl into. Franco is the most effortless actor on-screen, so he stands out sharply from them more soulful Marshall-Green or Parrack, or the more colourfully bizarre Nelson, who'd chew the scenery if he could.
In the end the film is a clever exploration of the blurred line between life and death, plus the darker shadows we push our loved ones into, sometimes unintentionally. By telling the story through everyone's eyes, we see both the scary bonds between these people and the bitter edges that push them apart. But we never feel any of it.
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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