Can human decency outshine the evils of the world? That is one of the questions that Jim: The James Foley Story asks the viewer. This moving documentary tell the story of Journalist James (Jim) Foley, who became known worldwide for his brutal death at the hands of ISIS. The story is told through Jim’s friends and family in three parts.
First – through the lens of his family – his beginning in New England and his restlessness with a “normal” job and life. The normalcy of his family and childhood brings a stark contrast to the dangerous career and adult life he so loved.
We then follow Jim on his journey into conflict journalism and his first experience with being a hostage in Libya. Which is told by his fellow journalists and friends. Jim is universally well liked among his peers and subjects, which at points veers on the edge of idolization. Though one fault highlighted is his propensity for dangerous situations -which ultimately gets him kidnapped. When Jim returns to New England he realizes the pain he has caused his family and tries to assimilate into a desk job. However the pull of danger and conflict proves to be to much and Jim moved his sights toward Syria. His family and friends begrudgingly send him off and he returns to war. Joined by a few of his peers from Libya they start working in Syria, but soon realize that there are much darker forces working outside of their control – and protection as a journalist.
The final act of the film is perhaps the most harrowing. It starts at Jim’s capture and ends at his death. Jim’s final act is told partly through his friends and family back home and his surrogate family – his fellow hostages. The usage of reenactments usually feel forced in documentaries however Brian Oakes subtle and soft directing of the captors simple joys and horrors help to bring even more depth to their torturous stories. The other captors highlight Jim’s humanity and selflessness in the face of unspeakable brutality. Showing that even while staring death in the face James Foley chose to live a life of optimism and compassion towards the plight of others.
The documentary is able to capture the life and legacy of Jim without politicizing or sensationalizing his death. Oakes, a friend of Foley’s was able to gain incredible and access, not just to Jim’s family but the fellow hostages and his journalist friends creating an intimate and caring voice throughout the film. If you want a film that gives an exposed look into the recent horrors in war in Syria while highlighting the tenacity of the human spirit I would definitely recommend – with tissues.
Jim:The James Foley Story is available for to stream on HBOGO or HBONOW with subscription.