James Franco to Direct All-Star Cast in John Steinbeck Adaptation In Dubious Battle

By  · Published on January 30th, 2015

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John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle,” which has never been made into a movie before, is the next classic novel to hit the big screen courtesy of James Franco. The actor-turned-director will star and helm the adaptation, which was scripted by Matt Rager, his collaborator on his two Faulkner features, As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.

Franco has quite an ensemble joining him in front of the camera this time around, too, including Bryan Cranston, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Danny McBride and Selena Gomez. McBride is the only one of them he’s directed before (in both Faulkners), and he’s only acted opposite McBride, Gomez and Harris, the last in the upcoming movie The Adderall Diaries.

Published in 1936, the book features another signature Depression-era story of migrant workers from the author of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” and it happens to be among President Obama’s favorites of all time. The plot involves a strike set in the world of California apple pickers and focuses more on the events than the individual characters. Last year, while he was performing on stage in a production of “Of Mice and Men,” Franco wrote about the novel in a column for Vice, addressing here why it’s a lesser-read work:

I can argue that In Dubious Battle isn’t as popular because it’s majorly centered on a workers’ strike in California. The novel traces an oppressed class’s steps as it becomes a force of revolt – a revolt only relevant in a bygone era. Compared to the other novels in the trilogy, it relies more on the depiction of the strike and the social structure than on the characters or the mythological and religious underpinnings of the narrative. It reads more like documentary nonfiction than novel storytelling.

He goes on to describe the book more in depth, and I assume he’s taking on the role of Jim Nolan, the single everyman he says kicks off the story. He also compares the plot to John Dahl’s 2005 WWII movie The Great Raid, in which he starred. I now also have to assume we can look to that – and his description that “very little happened until the end, when everything finally exploded” – to imagine what his In Dubious Battle will be like.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.