Childhood friend and first-time documentarist Brian Oakes interviews family members, conflict journalists and fellow detainees to understand James Foley and the events that led up to his capture while covering the Syrian civil war and his beheading by Isis in August 2014.
The opening section of Brian Oakes's fond profile of old friend James Foley recalls Which Way Is the Front Line From Here?, Sebastian Junger's memoir of Tim Hetherington, the fallen photojournalist with whom he had co-directed the Oscar-nominated documentary, Restrepo. Foley's parents and siblings reminisce about his youth and his decision to quit teaching to cover frontline stories from the world's trouble spots. Colleagues Nicole Tung, Clare Gillis and Manu Brabo reflect on their experiences in Libya, where the latter pair shared a 44-day captivity with Foley that put his family through hell.
But he couldn't settle in the Boston offices of the digital journalism company, Global Post, and set off for Syria. He was abducted again and here Oakes leavens the talking heads and archive mix with abstract recreations to convey something of the physical and psychological strain born by Foley and fellow hostages Didier François, Pierre Torres, Daniel Rye, Nicolas Henin and Ricardo Vilanova. They repeat the mantra that Foley was a fine man who did what he could to make the ordeal bearable for others and much of their testimony is deeply moving, while the impact Foley had on everyone he met is palpable.
Yet, for all the sincerity of this personal tribute, much is left unsaid. Oakes opts against delving into Foley's psyche or the agony endured by his loved ones. He also makes no effort to place his story in a wider geopolitical context or to examine the nature and value of freelance conflict journalism. Consequently, this lacks the trenchancy or insight of Junger's homage or Jacqui and David Morris's McCullin.
This lament for a lost pal is full of heartfelt moments. But Oakes is too discreet to tackle the difficult issues he raises, while his limited technique is further exposed by his mawkish musical choices. Well-meaning, sobering, but imperfect.