In Dubious Battle (2016) Poster

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James Franco fails to deliver the best in Steinbeck's story
FilmCuckoo27 February 2017
"In Dubious Battle" was one of the movies I wanted to see more than any other film from Hollywood in 2016. My original enthusiasm faded quickly only after 10 minutes into the film.

Let me explain: "In Dubious Battle" is one of the best Steinbeck novels, as important classic as its companion piece, the unforgettable "Grapes of Wrath", which not only happens during the same time period, also deals with the same issues of this era. "In Dubious Battle" hasn't been filmed before, for obvious reasons, as it has much more clear political message in it, as the main characters are members of the American Communist Party, who are sent on a mission to fight for fair wages among the apple pickers, who are mostly vagrant families and other victims in the downfall of the economic collapse, which lead to the Great Depression. Unlike "Grapes of Wrath", "In Dubious Battle" is mainly about how destructive and unfair the labour laws were during that time, which enabled rich land owners to exploit the destitute workers to the maximum, giving them basically wages which wouldn't have even covered the expenses of food and shelter.

However... I find it near inexcusable for what the writers and the director have actually done to this masterpiece of source material. Some of the most memorable scenes and events in the book, have been completely either written out or have been softened or edited into something completely different, which no longer does any justice to the original Steinbeck novel. This has lead to very visible and easily noticeable mistakes and clear errors in the production of the movie. There are totally unforgivable errors of fluid continuity via truly strange film editing, mainly in form of abrupt cutting, which even leave seriously weird time gaps: -As an example, one of the most memorable scenes in the book, is the first meeting between Al and the newly arrived Jim & Mac, has been butchered to a bare minimum, which fails to deliver any of the originally intended importance of this meeting. This is the first truly odd of really weird cuts throughout the film, which leaves in amateur like time-lapses. There should have been a complete scene, where Al prepares for them a free meal out of sympathy and after being flattered, a hamburger steak with mashed potatoes and thick brown gravy, which is described meticulously in detail by Steinbeck in the book, using almost two pages to underline both the hunger of Jim & Mac, and to establish the future important relationship between Al, his father and Jim & Mac.

I would see the main culprit for this travesty being mainly the director James Franco. His direction clearly shows he doesn't seem to have any emotional attachment for telling this important story, which is evident in how much has been actually left out from the original complete story. Franco hasn't done anything to cover the obvious and weird time gaps and missing events in this movie. It would be justified to say that Franco probably hasn't concentrated nearly as much as he should have. Could be out of interest or just lacking adequate motivation. In any case, I am not impressed with Franco's directorial work. He is still much better as an actor. As a director he has made silly mistakes and unforgivable editorial choices, which do effect the entire movie's atmosphere and how well the story is being delivered to the viewers. As it stands now, the movie lacks emotion, dynamic and empathy for the story or the characters.

The second fail point for this movie is its casting - Almost the entire cast of the main characters appear to be far from being motivated, and this has lead to a display of some of the most mediocre acting performances of 2016. The only exception to the rule is Vincent D'Onofrio, who is playing London, and even in his case, just barely. I find just about everything disappointing in this film, cinematography certainly isn't doing any justice to it either, and this could be possibly because the sets aren't in any way convincing that this is early 1930's, the camera angles are to put it mildly, unconventional, there are close shots, when the scene would have rather called for medium or even long shots and then there are long shots in place of close shots. In some places the seriously weird cutting disrupts even viewers ability to follow the story, as the cuts don't make any sense. The third low point is the soundtrack, which doesn't fit the movie, or the time-line, when the movie is supposedly happening.

Finally... Even with all the shortcomings in this movie, it is still watchable and even enjoyable (with strong reservations), but don't expect a clear and concise masterpiece. It works also much better for those people who haven't read Steinbeck's novel, but fails to convince most of the film scholars and academics, who will easily spot the many flaws in this production.
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Surprisingly engaging
Gordon-1111 April 2017
This film tells the story of a group of workers in an Apple farm in the early 1900's in the United States of America, who demand improved pay and working conditions. As they rise up against exploitation by the farm owner, they pay begin to pay a price they cannot imagine.

I had low expectations when I began watching it, as I have not enjoyed many films directed by James Franco. However, the story of "In Dubious Battle" is unexpectedly engaging, proving my preconceptions wrong. Neither side will budge from their positions, leading to an escalation of clash, ultimately leading to violence and death. It indeed is a dubious battle for both sides, as morality is eroded by desperation, greed and many other factors. It is also captivating to see how the roles of Vincent D'Onofrio and Nat Wolff change throughout the film. I find this film captivating, engaging and thought provoking.
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Despite Its Flaws Has an Important Message
larrys31 April 2017
A powerful all-star cast, with varying degrees of screen time, in this film adaptation of a John Steinbeck book. It can drag at times and I felt it was overly long, but the message of the movie is quite important, in my opinion.

Set in 1933 (during the Great Depression), in the apple orchards of the Tongas Valley, in California, James Franco and Nat Wolff star as two radical organizers who infiltrate the apple pickers in that region to get them to fight back and band together against the landowners who are exploiting them.

The orchard owners will do anything to protect their interests and, as one would expect, the two groups will violently clash and chaos and bloodshed will ensue. I might note Vincent D'Onofrio gives a superlative performance here as London, a giant of a man elected to be the leader of the workers.

All in all, despite its flaws this movie serves as a good reminder of how bad things can get if the pendulum swings too far between the interests of business and their workers. In the seemingly rush of our Washington D.C. politicians to give free rein to corporations, perhaps this film can illustrate again that we're still fighting some of the same battles today some 80 years later.
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Which side are you on?
hypersonic899921 February 2017
One of the best novels by Steinbeck is translated to a powerful film. The struggle of workers to gain labour rights and the birth of unions in the USA.

James Franco has the right credentials to become an amazing director. The film portrays brilliantly the kaleidoscope of feelings of a group of people asking nothing more than to be treated fairly from the people who own everything. This is something the book focuses on, and this adaptation doesn't just present a story, but it carries accurately what Steinbeck tried to portray: The initial fears and hesitations that hold people back from coming together, then the anger and hope that brings them together, the self-doubt as the fight reveals to be a protracted one, and the final push through the desperation and dread to overcome the obstacles.

It's time people remembered that in this life, unfortunately, nothing is given. It is earned with hard-fought battles and sacrifice.

This film is a real gem, not just because it's executed well, but more importantly because it has something important to say, something that all should stop, listen and give it some thought.

Bravo James Franco and everyone else involved in this. You have the guts to stand up and take on a beast that few film-makers ever try to wrestle with.
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The movie plays out as a great companion to The Grapes Of Wrath, this one just had a little more action. I do recommend.
cosmo_tiger24 March 2017
"If you don't make trouble then nothing's gonna change." Jim (Wolf) is growing up in the depression and is tired and angry at the way his family and those he knows are being treated. Wanting to do something about it he meets up with Mac (Franco). Together they start a worker revolt that leads to a strike, but soon things become more dangerous than they expected. This is a movie I went in expecting it to be slow and boring. I mean how can a movie about a fruit picking strike during the great depression be good? I don't know if it was my expectations that played a part but this movie was very good. The movie was tense and I was surprisingly on the edge for most of it. The acting is amazing, but with the cast it has that's not a surprise at all. This film is based off a novel by John Steinbeck and really felt true to his style. The movie plays out as a great companion to The Grapes Of Wrath, this one just had a little more action. Overall, a surprisingly tense and good movie that I do recommend. One of the better historical fiction movies I have seen. I give this a high B+.
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Incredible talent pooled together
HotToastyRag30 March 2020
Did you like As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury? You'll want to check out In Dubious Battle, another classic story brought to the big screen by director and actor James Franco. During the Great Depression, migrant workers strike and fight for fairer wages, but since it's based off a John Steinbeck book, so you know it's going to be a touch more dramatic than Norma Rae.

Nat Wolff is the main character, but if you've only seen him in quirky movies and can't take him seriously yet, don't worry. He's surrounded by such heavyweights you'll have plenty of other people to focus on. Nat teams up with James Franco and Ahna O'Reilly to stir up activism within poor laborers, and they infiltrate a group of apple pickers headed by Vincent D'Onofrio. Since this is a Steinbeck story, you'll be on the lookout for the "old man with the dog" character: Ed Harris briefly graces the screen, albeit sans canine. Ladies, if you had a crush on the blue-eyed charmer in the '90s, you might want to skip this one.

Seeing so many familiar faces in the cast who have worked with Franco in previous films-Nat Wolff, Ahna O'Reilly, Ed Harris, Robert Duvall, Scott Haze, Bryan Cranston, Jack Kehler, Joel Marsh Garland, Selena Gomez, and Keegan Allen-is a big compliment. If someone is difficult or unpleasant to work with, actors generally won't flock to be a part of his next project. Having such a combination of stage and screen legends, including Sam Shepard, attaching their names to his film is a way of publicly declaring their respect for his talent.

If you're a Steinbeck fan, or if you haven't seen one a James Franco directed movie yet, pick this one up. It's a very thoughtful piece, and it's great to see so many classically trained actors pooling their talents together. Granted, those who have obviously studied acting and had stage experience constantly show up the younger folks, but that's to be expected.
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Another James Franco movie of the week.
subxerogravity21 February 2017
I've seen that James Franco is in at least one movie in theaters every week.

For the most part he places himself in the movie so that the movie would get more promotion like a theatrical release (Or so I believe).

This time was different as he directed and stared in this playing a major role as a unionizer, or rather the processor to this in 1933, which seems to be a Cold-hearted con man who just wants to make all workers get a fair shake. Plus the movie has a pretty big name cast with Vincent D'Onofrio Robert Duvall Bryan Cranston with a small role and Selma Gomez of all people trying to put some substance on her resume.

Plus Franco did a good job at directing himself.

It's a small movie with a very big cast, about a great story that still registers with people today.
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I liked this movie
tlarraya30 April 2017
I think this movie tells a tale that is worth telling. The actors are superb. It has conflict and surprises. The characters aren't shallow. The filming is very good. I would recommend watching this. A great movie directed by Franco that allows him to step out from comedy and show that he can do more complex roles.
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kahantzaddik9 July 2018
Perhaps one day a faithful adaptation of Steinbeck's novel will be produced. This movie has nothing in common with the book it supposedly bases itself on aside from some names of the characters -- there's nothing wrong with the choice of cast -- and the setting -- the locations could have set the scene for a wonderful film.

The speech in Steinbeck's novel is authentic and believable. The scriptwriter could have transplanted it directly and with a little imagination expanded on it.

What a terrible shame!
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Not bad, but missing the 'wow' factor
Top_Dawg_Critic14 July 2017
Here we have a story that was told well - directing and writing was good, cinematography, editing and sound was great, but the pace was very slow and missing substance. It felt like someone monotonic was telling a story, but with no punch-line, or closing plot message. It wasn't a bad film, and the cast were all on point, but is was just missing that wow factor for me. It's a 6/10 from me.
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Good but not excellent
alen_tab26 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A movie that has a strong historical motive. Nicely wrapped up overview of a historically hard workers battle. Having the chance to see how hard their lives were and how even today they are being pushed around (though in a different ways and through different institutions and legal framework in context of present days)...This movie has no clear ending and actually represents the fight that still go on - workers fight lasts forever. Actors were great. While there were no poor acting, James Franco did an amazing job, both in front and behind the camera. A good movie to see
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Incredible screenplay and amazing cast and director.
yusufpiskin25 October 2020
James Franco is starting to come into his own as a director with this one. Everything about the film is at worst decent, expect the story itself.

A Steinbeck adaption makes you realize that every book does not a good film make.

A story about striking workers in Depression era times, is one that is an extremely important one, but that doesn't make it extremely exciting. And yet...

Some great performances are scattered throughout the film like so much seasoning over a well prepared and cooked meal. It's a bit overzealous at times, a bit longwinded but it's earnest.

Mostly it shows good potential from a director who has yet to make a GREAT film, but shows that he still might.
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Don't expect much from these rich privileged actors portraying poor fruit pickers during the depression era
Ed-Shullivan19 March 2018
I was not surprised to see that a bunch of wealthy privileged actors such as Nat Wolff, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Josh Hutcherson, John Savage and Ed Harris who were attempting to represent the homeless men and women during the depression era as underpaid fruit pickers failed so miserably and were so ineffective in being believed. The result was such a poorly finished film attempting to re-create the imagery and drama of such a classic Oscar winning film as Henry Fonda in the 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath.

I was surprised to see such reputable actors as Robert Duvall and Sam Shepard agreeing to partake in this film project. I would have thought they would have agreed to forfeit their salaries as well as pay out of their own pocket so as not to allow the release of this piece of crap.

Mrs. Shullivan and I were laughing hysterically at the attempt of Selena Gomez in the scene where she is supposedly having a difficult time giving birth until her two heroes show up as half a dozen of her dumbfounded family members stand around helplessly. James Franco steps in as her quasi doctor and catches the newborn popping out of Gomez's birth canal and Nat Wolff who looked simply amazingly stupid holding Selena's hand as she laughingly grunted and groaned through each contraction.

What were the editors thinking saying their film is now complete? I say it was complete as well. A complete piece of third rate junk, not worth releasing to the general public who were never privy to the real hardships faced by millions of homeless men and women trying to eke out a living picking apples before unions and federal laws were initiated and governed the land in the later years.

I give this film a 2 out of 10 rating
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Good modern Steinbeck adaption
Red-Barracuda29 June 2017
During the Great Depression of the 1930's, two members of a political activist party start work with apple-pickers at a fruit farm and rally the workers to demand better rights.

This was based on a John Steinbeck novel, which I have to admit to not having read. It seems to have been a pretty political work about the labour laws of the day which enabled employers to exploit their workforce by offering extremely low wages. The subject actually seems quite pertinent nowadays considering that we have just gone through another recession with employers being legally allowed to offer workers zero hours contracts. So, the film is a timely reminder that the workforce will unfortunately always have to fight for a fair deal. I thought the film itself was very good, if not necessarily emotionally strong. I didn't feel for the characters as much as I should, as they weren't sketched out quite enough. Having said that, I thought this worked just fine as a message movie. Its subject and time period are pretty unglamorous but it is brought to the screen with authenticity. The film not only looks at the unfairness of the system but also the doubts of those fighting against it. It shows their predicament and illustrated their dilemmas quite well I thought.
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Nice try, but it's another failure at Steinbeck.
glennsmithk12 November 2019
Can anyone else make a decent Steinbeck movie? Grapes of Wrath (1940) was the best one, but that was 80 years ago! Of Mice and Men (1992) by Gary Sinise was all wrong in creating the story's mood and in its casting. As for this one, how could they miss the mark so badly? There are no decent filmmakers in Hollywood anymore. All they seem to have are remakes, franchises, gore, and CGI. The age of the big screen is over.
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Story just goes stail
getbacksid21 August 2021
The movie starts off nicely and the story develops around the main characters and adds characters as it goes. However the excellent cast within this movie cannot remove the fact that this movie stars around the 30-minute mark and never really regains momentum. You're waiting for something extraordinary to happen but it never does. Robert Duvall is only in the movie maybe four times of a total of 20 minutes perhaps, he however plays the villain masterfully. In fact all of the cast are excellent, the script on the other hand is a different story. Five stars from me.
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Starts extremely strong, then falls extremely flat.
Brooklynsmagicmike29 December 2020
The movie had an excellent cast ranging from some well known younger actors to some well known veteran ones. The acting was great from all sides and things like the visuals were astounding. I was engaged in first half of the film but then started losing interest fast. The movie is about 30 minutes to long and the action in the film is very minuscle. On top of it all the ending had be one of most abrupt I ever seen. Its not worst watch in the world but it fails to live up to expectations.
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Cheesy kinda?
crackerjackusher8 October 2018
"I'll let you do anything you want for a can of sardines."

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Nice Movie with a great cast
j-3828625 February 2017
James Franco really did a great job by asking Selena to do the role her giving birth scene was really realistic and i felt her pain its like she already experience it wow . like i said the cast was great with talented people and very creative editing and the production is good too . i heard that James called Selena a secret weapon in an interview . So I'm still surprised by that acting its really nice to see young actresses and actors giving all they got to make the movie worth the watch . I'm just here to say that Selena Gomez deserve an Oscar for that scene .
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read 'In Dubious Battle' by John Steinbeck
talesofordinarydudeness19 February 2021
Liked this movie? read the book. didn't like this movie? read the book. the book is soooo good, and no matter how good (or bad) the adaption, the movie just can't capture it's essence.

read 'In Dubious Battle' by John Steinbeck.
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Good movie, seems a bit pointless
jasper-j-anscombe8 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The movie itself was very good, the acting was great, and the cast couldn't have been much better. However, I found the movie itself was a bit pointless as nothing really happened in it. A bunch of people went on strike, a couple died and we didn't even see what happened in the end, it just ended abruptly. While the acting was superb and even with the great cast that it had, the whole story line could have been better. On the other hand, very few movies have been made about the strikes in the Great Depression and it's good to finally see one, and it was cool that they even incorporated a bit of the first red scare into it.
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In 1933 California, the beginning of unions and strikes.
TxMike8 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
My wife and I watched this at home on BluRay from our public library. In fact she only watched the first half of it because the story moves very slowly.

The movie is a screen adaptation of a John Steinbeck novel of the same title. Steinbeck was a California valley and Stanford man, as was James Franco, who read Steinbeck's work in his younger days and made a personal connection with the author who incidentally died 10 years before Franco was born.

In the movie, also directed by him, James Franco is activist Mac. We don't learn much about his backstory but he appears to be sympathetic to the cause of migrant workers and ultimately gives up his life for their causes. As the script at the end of the movie tells us, in the 1930s there were perhaps 2000 strikes, most of them ineffective, but ultimately led to recognition of workers' rights to organize and eventually laws regarding minimum wages.

The core point in this movie is migrant workers were lured to pick apples in the valley at a promised wage of $3 per day, not much but in the Great Depression a livable wage. When they arrived, essentially broke, the owners would tell them that unfortunately they could only pay $1 per day, take it or leave it.

Mac convinces them ultimately to stand up for their rights, to strike until they received a fair wage. Even though the movie is well under 2 hours it seems long because most of it moves slowly and we intuit where it is going ... several clashes between the migrant workers, the orchard owners, and local lawmen who don't want the trouble in their community. There are beatings and shootings, houses and barns burned down in the middle of the night.

So in all it isn't a pleasant movie to watch but it depicts an important chapter in American history.
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Mankind hates itself
nogodnomasters29 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel of the same name. Mac (James Franco) and Jim (Nat Wolff) are worker organizers seen as communists by many. They infiltrate a group of apple pickers in California to create a strike and all the turmoil that follows.

While the film is basically pro-labor it does show some of labors dubious tactics as well as a brief land owners argument. The acting was decent with Vincent D'Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, and Sam Shepard in support roles. Selena Gomez was reluctant to have James Franco deliver her baby.

Guide: No swearing or nudity. Near sex scene.
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Could have been better
v-ley2 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I give this movie a good 5 only for the story line. I'm over James reading a book and then turning it into his next movie project. Some are OK and some are just not worth it, this is one of them. He doesn't act as well as the other actors, mainly because he's too busy playing Director. Start making movies that have your own ideas, not someone else's book or play or whatever. The Actors who are still on top rely on those that write their own stories, please, James, do the same! The movies he has done lately are nothing but trash and idiotic. "Why Him"? Perfect example of not knowing when to say yes to a role and when not to. Put the books down and use your own imagination.
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Faithful to the Spirit if not the Letter of the Novel
riesx00214 July 2018
In my summer reading this year, I am catching up on the John Steinbeck novels I have missed over the years, and just finished In Dubious Battle this week. As other reviewers have pointed out, the movie version omits or rewrites many of the details of the book. But I found the film to be wonderfully faithful to the spirit of the novel, and certainly to the spirit of the labor movements of the 1930s.

Moreover, I thought the casting was excellent. Vincent D'Onofrio wonderfully captures the character London. Nat Wolff and James Franco do an above average job of portraying the two radicals attempting to instigate the labor movement. Having Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, and Sam Shepard add their talents to their respective roles leant depth to their characters and a sort of weight to the film. Of course, for the most part, the female characters either did not appear in the novel or were completely reoriented by the script-writer and director. But the characters and actors here also, in my opinion, represented the spirit of the book and the times.

I definitely recommend reading the novel before watching the film, but I liked the film very much.
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