20 user 33 critic

In Dubious Battle (2016)

R | | Drama | 17 February 2017 (USA)
2:30 | Trailer
An activist gets caught up in the labor movement for farm workers in California during the 1930s.


James Franco


Matt Rager (screenplay by) (as Matthew Rager), John Steinbeck (based on the book by)
2 wins. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Nat Wolff ... Jim
James Franco ... Mac
Vincent D'Onofrio ... London
Selena Gomez ... Lisa
Ahna O'Reilly ... Edie
Analeigh Tipton ... Vera
Jack Kehler ... Dr. Burton
Scott Haze ... Frank the Foreman
Sam Shepard ... Mr. Anderson
Joel Marsh Garland ... Al
John Savage ... Dan
Robert Duvall ... Bolton
Ed Harris ... Joy
Josh Hutcherson ... Vinnie
Julian De Niro Julian De Niro ... Billy


In the California apple country, 900 migratory workers rise up "in dubious battle" against the landowners. The group takes on a life of its own - stronger than its individual members and more frightening. Led by the doomed Jim Nolan (Nat Wolff), the strike is founded on his tragic idealism - on the "courage never to submit or yield." Published in 1936, the novel "In Dubious Battle" is considered the first major work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some violence and brief sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:






Release Date:

17 February 2017 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Batalha Incerta See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In order to keep his budget down, James Franco used extras in scenes that should have contained stuntmen. See more »


Scene where Mac brushes his teeth, he's using a 21st century white plastic toothbrush with accordion bend. See more »


[first lines]
Jim: [narrating] My pop always told me to watch the scales. Said the world will always find a way to cheat the working man. I met Mac McLeod in 1933, and I witnessed up close the price of real change.
Title Card: At the height of The Great Depression, nearly one quarter of Americans were without jobs.
Bolton: [standing on the back of his truck] Gentlemen, ladies, come in, come in. Listen, please. Hear what I have to say, all right? This price cut pains me as much as it pains you. With the market as volatile ...
See more »


Referenced in Half in the Bag: The Disaster Artist (2017) See more »


Which Side Are You On?
Written by Florence Reece
Performed by The Almanac Singers featuring Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Woody Guthrie, and others
Published by Stormking Music (BMI)
By Arrangement of Bicycle Music Company
From the recording entitled "Talking Union and Other Union Songs" (FW05285)
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, (p) & © 1955. Used by Permission.
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User Reviews

James Franco fails to deliver the best in Steinbeck's story
27 February 2017 | by FilmCuckooSee all my reviews

"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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