Jim: The James Foley Story
Arguably one of the most harrowing pieces of film this year, Jim is a 2016 Sundance Official Selection, a documentary following the moments leading to the death of frontline photojournalist James Foley.
In his directorial debut, childhood friend Brian Oakes explores the buildup to Foley’s widely publicised beheading at the hands of ISIS and the creation of the second most iconic image of terrorism in America after 9/11. It’s a story told largely through exposition, with heartfelt interviews from family, friends and fellow prisoners, as well as field material; the final years of a man who fought to bring the truth of the frontline are recounted lovingly, tearfully.
The cinematography is emotive, personable, and beautifully edited, giving a real feel of what the impact of the wars that rage on our doorstep are about, but is interspersed with dramatisations and “stock footage” that feel misplaced.
Production values of certain elements are so high within the interviews, that it is jarring when juxtaposed with raw footage of a shelled-out town. This does create an interesting dialogue between the two elements, but it does not feel like a conscious decision, making the feature feel melodramatic and dishonest.
Similarly, the narrative around Foley is largely positive – which, from the family and friends, is expected – but from a documentary perspective feels one-dimensional, bordering hero worship. We’re left wanting to explore the “impracticalities” his brothers reminisce about, Foley’s refusal for psychiatric help, and the policies on paying ransoms, which saw European victims freed but American Foley killed.
It’s the beginnings of these machinations that gives us a stirring sense of propaganda, a line that US films often tread in such charged territory (ie American Sniper and Zero Dark Thirty), and it’s often without a sense of irony or critique. The audience takes away from the film that Foley’s status of “war icon” is something he would hate, and while it’s impossible not to respect him, you can feel the spotlight of Western attention honing on him, ignoring the stories he died trying to tell.
The James Foley Story is more than a tribute to a friend – it’s a raw account of the wars we wage around the world, and the importance of frontline journalism. Unfortunately, his powerful story is lessened by the touches of “Hollywood magic”.
Jim: The James Foley Story is released in selected cinemas on 2nd September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Jim: The James Foley Story here: