Nominated for Best Original Song (“The Empty Chair”) at the 89th Annual Academy Awards
This is a very tricky area for a film critic. What to say about a man, who performs so heroically in a variety of ways, and ultimately dies a horrific death at the hands of ISIS terrorists? In no way would I even begin to disparage the life, the work, or the actions of James Foley. He suffered the unimaginable, and appears to have been a very much loved, and quite interesting young man. And, therein lies the issue, because the filmmakers are way too close to the subject at hand. For instance, first-time feature filmmaker Brian Oakes, is a childhood pal of the late Mr. Foley. This allowed apparently unlimited access to Foley’s family, friends, and associates. But it also seems to have assisted in tipping that line from biography into hagiography. Hey, maybe James Foley indeed was an all-around fantastic guy. I don’t doubt it. But I would’ve loved to learn more about what made him tick, and theories on just why he made some of the dangerous choices he made. I also found the overuse of recreations in the documentary’s latter half to be an almost fatal flaw. Throw in a now Academy Award-nominated song, co-written and performed by Sting, and the Oscar-baiting devices all appear to be in full swing. I’m glad that this story of a conflict journalist being captured in war-torn Syria, and then horrifically being slaughtered for his passions (note: there is a video of Mr. Foley’s execution…but it is not shown in the film) exists. Especially considering our current political climate. But a more complex approach, from a more experienced director, would have helped paint a more unforgettable picture. And a little trimming of the 111-minute running time wouldn’t have hurt either. All that being said–much respect to the memory of Mr. Foley, and his family.