×

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Sound and the Fury’

With:

James Franco, Joey King, Scott Haze, Loretta Devine, Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O’Reilly, Jacob Loeb, Kylen Davis, Shawntae Hughes, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3026144/

While his ambitions frequently exceed his reach  sometimes by a substantial distance  James Franco gets an undeserved amount of grief for his various auteurist projects. It’s hard to think of another matinee idol so eager to spend his cultural capital on ventures that more reasonable, less imaginative movie stars would consider pure folly, and in an increasingly risk-averse Hollywood, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Franco’s second adaptation of a seemingly unfilmable William Faulkner novel within the last year and a half, “The Sound and the Fury,” is certainly a folly, failing to capture the weird, entrancing, often maddening ambiance of the great writer’s elliptical masterpiece, and its surfeit of half-baked film-student flourishes and needless cameos occasionally give it an amateur-hour feel. But Franco nonetheless shows improvement over 2013’s “As I Lay Dying,” and well, it’s hard to fault him for trying.

Published in 1929, Faulkner’s novel skips, stream-of-consciousness-style, through the calamitous history of the Compson clan, a once-noble Mississippi family gone to seed, with four sections told from four different perspectives, a structure Franco retains here. In the first, the mentally challenged Benjy Compson (Franco) struggles to understand the world around him as he’s marginalized, and finally castrated, by his increasingly unfeeling guardians. In the second, the fragile intellectual Quentin Compson (Jacob Loeb) commits suicide during his freshman year at Harvard. In the last two sections  combined into one by the film, to no great detriment  the cynical Jason Compson (Scott Haze), one of the most loathsome characters in all of literature, battles the family’s longtime servant, Dilsey (Loretta Devine), and his rebellious illegitimate niece, Quentin (Joey King), for dominance over what’s left of the Compsons’ good name.

Casting an outsized shadow over all of this is the lone Compson sister, Caddy (Ahna O’Reilly). O’Reilly has a thankless task here, as Caddy is the sort of character who looms so large precisely due to her absence, glimpsed as she is only through splintered memories. To Benjy she’s a luminescent guardian angel, to Quentin a tragic, sublimated love interest, and to Jason a “fallen woman” whose behavior cost him a career. On the page, her character attains an almost mythic resonance; onscreen, she comes across as a central-casting Southern belle from some lesser Tennessee Williams play.

Unlike Martin Ritt’s long-lamented 1959 adaptation, Franco is generally quite faithful, cutting little from the book in terms of narrative incident. But to adapt a novel like this, one needs to find a proper cinematic correlative for its distinctive narrative structure, and Franco’s attempts to merely mimic it fall short. (Masterpieces of modernist literature, often far less concerned with the story than the telling, repeatedly present this trap for overly faithful adapters, with Sean Walsh’s 2003 “Ulysses” adaptation, “Bloom,” representing another noble victim.) Repeated leitmotifs such as Benjy’s “Caddy smelled like the trees” can be hauntingly poetic in print, but become increasingly silly when repeated again and again in voiceover.

Quentin’s story, which suffers the most cutting  particularly regarding his encounter with a mute Italian girl, a subtly significant scene in the novel which makes almost no sense as depicted here  never really finds its center. The more straightforward final section presents more of a standard Southern Gothic vibe, but Haze plays Jason as an almost cartoonish pantomime villain.

There will be some who chuckle at Franco’s turn as Benjy, and it’s easy to see why: While admirably unself-conscious, his howling, simpering and drooling through prosthetic zombie teeth frequently veer into the grotesque. Of course, Franco is simply being faithful to the world of the novel, where the character’s mental deficiencies were seen not as a medical condition, but as a physical embodiment of the Compson family’s decline. But that doesn’t make it any less distracting to watch.

Relying on handheld cameras and claustrophobic close angles, Franco does attempt some Terrence Malick-style dream imagery to help finesse the jumps from past to present, sometimes successfully. Franco buddies Seth Rogen and Danny McBride have small, ill-advised cameos.

Toronto Film Review: 'The Sound and the Fury'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 5, 2014. (Also in Venice Film Festival — noncompeting.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production:

A Rabbit Bandini Films presentation. Produced by Caroline Aragon, Lee Caplin, Vince Jolivette. Executive producers, Nemis Hason, Sezin Hason, Straw Weisman, Amy Beecroft, Jamie Hormel.

Crew:

Directed by James Franco. Screenplay, Matt Rager, from the novel by William Faulkner. Camera (color), Bruce Cheung; editor, Ian Olds; music, Tim O’Keefe; production designer, Kristen Adams; art decorators, Jerel Levanway, Eric Morrell; costume designer, Caroline Eselin; sound, Lisle Engel; assistant director, James Gerber; casting, Matthew Morgan.

With:

James Franco, Joey King, Scott Haze, Loretta Devine, Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O’Reilly, Jacob Loeb, Kylen Davis, Shawntae Hughes, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride.

More Film

  • it chapter two, comic con

    Comic-Con: 4500 Gallons of Fake Blood and Everything Else to Know About 'It Chapter Two''

    Comic-Con 2019 kicked off with a stacked presentation from the director and cast of “It Chapter Two” on Wednesday, inspiring a curious amount of joy at San Diego’s Spreckles Theater in spite of the abject terror offered up by the film. The closing chapter to 2017’s record-obliterating “It,” the highest grossing R-rated horror film of [...]

  • 'Between Me and My Mind' Review:

    Film Review: Trey Anastasio in 'Between Me and My Mind'

    Trey Anastasio doesn’t look like a rock star. With his thick rimless glasses and flop of sandy red hair, you might say he resembles John Sebastian, but really, he looks like a mashup of Mike White and Jon Cryer and the filmmaker Chris Smith. He’s an appealingly ordinary shaggy-geek dude, like some guy you might [...]

  • Photo taken July 18, 2019, from

    Dozen Feared Dead in Arson Attack on Japan's Kyoto Animation

    An arson attack on the Kyoto Animation company on Thursday morning in Japan has claimed the life of at least one person. But it is now feared that as many as 13 have been killed. Emergency services in Kyoto City received a call around 10.35 a.m. local time reporting an explosion on the first floor [...]

  • sith trooper

    Sith Trooper Revealed From 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

    “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” revealed a new storm trooper uniform Wednesday at San Diego Comic Con as part of a special exhibit celebrating the evolution of the storm trooper design. Dubbed the Sith trooper, the new uniform sports all-red armor plates with a matching red and black blaster. Also decorating the armor is [...]

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • The Lion King

    Film News Roundup: PETA Sponsors Rescued Lion in Jon Favreau's Name

    In today’s film news roundup, PETA honors Jon Favreau for “The Lion King,” “Tigers Are Not Afraid” gets a theatrical release, a Kirk Franklin biopic is in development and “The Sixth Sense” gets an anniversary showing in Philadelphia. HONOR The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sponsoring a rescued lion to honor director [...]

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content