Film Review: Jim: The James Foley Story (USA, 2016) tugs at your heartstrings

Most people were introduced to James “Jim” Foley when he appeared in a bright orange jumpsuit and reports (and video) confirmed that he had been the first American citizen to be murdered by ISIS. It was a moment where the Islamic State had stripped away his humanity and reduced Foley to a casualty. In the film, Jim: The James Foley Story, those closest to him set about reclaiming Foley’s story and offering us a glimpse into his complex and good-natured character.

The documentary is directed and co-written by Foley’s childhood friend, Brian Oakes, who is making his directorial debut here. The story is like a labour of love for Jim, who is shown as a restless and principled guy. Foley was a disorganised man but he believed in the importance of his work in capturing the plight of those individuals who were displaced and affected by war and conflict zones, first in Iraq and Libya and ultimately in Syria.

This film is by no means a perfect one. It does gloss over and omit some things, like Foley’s relationship with British photo journalist, John Cantlie (who was captured with Jim and remains so) is not explored. There is also little airtime given to the work that was undertaken by governments in order to negotiate with the captors for the release of prisoners (several journalists from Continental Europe were released but how this was achieved is not explained here.) The addition of some of the key facts would have made for a more comprehensive and complete tale.

Jim: The James Foley Story does succeed in creating a good portrait of Jim. The film utilises some archive footage of Jim speaking at his alma mater as well as family photos and Foley’s work from the frontline. The latter contains harrowing images of deceased and injured Syrians. These images are graphic and hard to watch but it is what Foley wanted the world to see. The filmmaker of this documentary did make the right decision however, to show only a short excerpt of Foley’s video with ISIS and it thankfully left out the gruesome beheading.

This story also contains a series of re-enactments to give the audience an idea of the brutality Foley and others experienced while in captivity. The interviews with Foley’s fellow prisoners are particularly striking and illuminating. Like Foley’s friends, colleagues and family members, they describe Jim as a caring and self-less creature who put other’s needs before his own.

Jim: The James Foley Story is an important documentary that shines a light on the late conflict journalist, James Foley. It also make us stop and appreciate what journalists and civilians caught up in war and other conflicts have to deal with on a daily basis. This story is ultimately one that will make you pause as it tugs at your heartstrings and makes you want to cry over the darkness in the world. But if there is some hope to be had here it means that it will also make you want to reach out and embrace your loved ones.


Jim: The James Foley Story plays at Melbourne’s ACMI Cinemas as part of the Secrets & Lies documentary film program from October 15-18. For more information and tickets please click HERE.


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