Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Matt Rager
(based on the novel THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner)
Starring: James Franco, Jacob Loeb, Joey King, Tim Blake Nelson, Loretta Devine, Ahna O’Reilly, Scott Haze, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride & Logan Marshall-Green
William Faulkner’s work has been notoriously difficult to adapt onto the screen. While his stories are about being human and life itself, his stream-of-consciousness style has confused countless readers and seems impossible to properly translate into film format. Enter literature-lover James Franco and his ambition. Franco tried to adapt Faulkner in 2013’s AS I LAY DYING and he attempts to adapt one of Faulkner’s most acclaimed novels in THE SOUND AND THE FURY. There’s effort being put into this project, but it’s wasted with amateur directing, a bland tone, and bad acting. There are highlights in Franco’s cinematic version of Faulkner, but these are few and far between.
Like the novel it’s based upon, the film is split into non-linear chapters (four in the book, three in the movie as it combines the third and fourth sections). We follow the Compson Family in early 20th-century Mississippi. The family has suffered hardships in the past and is about to fall into complete disarray. We watch the family’s fall from grace from the perspectives of the three Compson sons: mentally challenged Benjy (James Franco), intellectual Quentin (Jacob Loeb), and scumbag Jason (Scott Haze).
In discussing this film, I need to break down the (few) positives and (many) negatives of each chapter. In the first segment, James Franco clearly didn’t listen to Robert Downey Jr.’s sound advice from TROPIC THUNDER and proceeds to go “full retard” as Benjy. Franco fearlessly thrusts himself into the role of this mentally challenged man and the results are cringe worthy to say the least. He dons a set of fake teeth, drools all over the place, and proceeds to ass-bite a small child. God, I wish I was making that last part up.
To be fair, the first section of Faulkner’s novel is often regarded as damn near incomprehensible and Franco tries to do the same thing here with his camera. The film frequently cuts to pretentious shots of Benjy cradling his face in curtains and screaming in a hospital bed…for no apparent reason other than the film being “art.” A child’s whispery voice fills in the narration of this character’s inner monologue, mostly repeating the line about how his sister Caddy (Ahna O’Reilly) smells like trees. This was kind of cool at first (as someone who had to read the novel in college), but it grows mighty annoying and laughably pretentious over the space of 30 minutes.
The second chapter fares much better as Jacob Loeb proves himself to be a capable enough in the role of deeply depressed Quentin, whilst Tim Blake Nelson’s Compson father drunkenly waxes poetic about time and water. The second section’s best scene involves Quentin confronting his sister’s scummy ex-boyfriend Dalton (Logan Marshall-Green). This entire sequence seems like it was ripped straight out of Faulkner’s book. However, the rest of Quentin’s perspective frequently meanders and makes him into a downright unlikable guy, by ignoring the only heartwarming piece of his story from the novel for no apparent reason.
The third/final chapter is much more straightforward and coherent as we follow scumbag Jason, played to over-the-top levels by Scott Haze. The appearance of Haze’s Jason resembles a villainous cartoon character. This segment certainly isn’t aided by obvious age make-up on Janet Jones or distracting cameos by Seth Rogen (as a telegram operator) and Danny McBride (as the town sheriff). At least, Joey King is believable as Jason’s defiant niece and Loretta Devine is well-cast as the family’s put-upon house servant.
This final segment is also a remarkably weak way to end the film, though I’d actually blame that upon the source material. I’m having a really hard time finding many nice things to say about Franco’s adaptation of THE SOUND AND THE FURY. It’s long, tedious (only occasionally capturing the spark of what makes its source material work so well), and directed rather poorly. There are dull stretches where the viewer will find themselves checking their watch and Faulkner fans will simply be waiting for the next event to occur. Even if you’ve read Faulkner’s celebrated book, this mostly lifeless cinematic version of THE SOUND AND THE FURY probably won’t do much for you. I’d say avoid this film and let’s hope that Franco doesn’t attempt to adapt any more of Faulkner’s work to the screen.