William Faulkner’s impressionistic novel The Sound and The Fury was published to little initial acclaim or success in 1929, and tells of the dissolution of a genteel family in the American south from the end of the Civil War into the first decades of the 20th century. The novel set the template for the down-at-heel Southern aristocratic tropes (incest, mental illness, alcoholism, etc) which has been endlessly replayed and parodied in popular culture, but the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness prose and overlapping four-part narrative makes it a less than obvious choice for film adaptation.

The seemingly workaholic James Franco should have left well enough alone; his adaptation (following on from a poorly received 1959 film version by director Martin Ritt) is a laughable mis-fire on all fronts. The film reduces the novel’s four-part narrative to a three-part structure told from the points of view of brothers Benjy (Franco), Quentin (Jacob Loeb) and Jason (Scott Haze) Compson. First up is Benjy, a quite severely mentally impaired 33 year old who is mute. He adores his promiscuous sister Caddy (Ahna O’Reilly), but when she marries a young man from a still wealthy family after becoming pregnant by another lover, the distraught and forlorn Benjy chases after a couple of local girls in a desperate bid for affection, with very unfortunate consequences.

Brother Quentin is his mother’s great hope, and the family sells off one of the last remaining parcels of their once magnificent estate to finance his Harvard education; alas, Quentin is an overly sensitive and tormented soul who cannot cope with life with yet more tragic consequences for himself and the family. Finally, brother Jason is a quintessential angry young man bitter about his family’s circumstances, who directs his anger toward his sister’s bastard child Miss Quentin (Joey King), taken in and raised by the family took to allow Caddy to marry and escape the decay of the Compsons.

The Sound And The Fury is a tragedy; in the hands of director Franco, it plays as overwrought farce. The drawling southern voiceover of the film’s opening moments could easily be introducing a antebellum comedy, but of course it isn’t. While watching Franco’s (adorned with protuberant prosthetic teeth) drooling, moaning performance, I thought of Robert Downey Jr admonishing another cast member in Tropic Thunder: “You went full retard, man. Never go full retard”. It’s difficult to impossible to feel empathy or sympathy for any of the characters, as they never go beyond the level of caricature. Some great works of narrative fiction date and come to be admired for their historical importance while no longer resonating with contemporary readers/audiences; The Sound And The Fury is seemingly just such a work.

Previous articleHeyUGuys Interviews: Elle Fanning on The Boxtrolls
Next articleExclusive Look at the Character Posters for You and the Night
Ian Gilchrist
I've worked in entertainment product development and sales & marketing in the U.S., UK and my native Canada for over 20 years, and have been a part of many changes during that time (I've overseen home entertainment releases on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray). I've also written and commentated about film and music for many outlets over the years. The first film I saw in the cinema was Mary Poppins, some time in the mid-60s: I was hooked. My love of the moving image remains as strong as ever.