Why? That’s the question that's asked throughout this HBO documentary on combat journalist James Foley. Not 'Why was he killed?' but 'Why go to these dangerous places and put yourself in these positions?' Why would James Foley, from a middle class American family, who bounced around exploring different careers, suddenly pick up a camera and make for the planet's more troubled regions? Director Brian Oakes offers up an answer in this detailed character exploration of the conflict journalist who was killed by ISIS in 2014.
ivided into two sections, the first has his family and friends paint a portrait of the man leading up to his dangerous career. They talk about a normal guy who had no plan post-graduation and regularly fluffed interviews. They don't hide their frustration at the hands of the US government's lack of help in bringing Foley home, and the lack of advice given to them when they received threatening emails from his captors.
nce he found his calling it's his left to his colleagues to explore the kind of man James was in the field. His adventures in Libya (his and capture and release by Gaddafi soldiers) and Syria are explored in detail, as his witness to the death of a fellow journalist. Foley raised funds for an ambulance for a hospital in Aleppo. These interviews and footage segments (Oakes unearths some stirring footage Foley recorded on the frontline) are dotted with a lecture Foley gave at Marquette University, in which he talks about the difference between physical courage and moral courage.
hen Foley is captured by ISIS in 2012, then a largely unknown force, Oakes hands proceedings over to his fellow captives – French and Danish journalists whom he shared a cell with – and the director investigates how Foley dealt with life in captivity. The camaraderie between the men – the raging arguments over their makeshift game of Risk – as they individually and collectively deal with the constant fear and the mental effects of torture is laid out. Again, Foley shows his instinctive humanitarianism, comforting Daniel Rhy Ottesen as he breaks down awaiting a promised release that threatens to derail.
he refrain of 'Why?' is answered by brother Brian towards the close. He admitted to putting James under pressure to settle down and save for retirement – have a proper life, basically - but James told him that he has to look outside himself, that life is about more than just possessions and materialism. It's about how you are with people, what you do in this life, and how you will be remembered. That's why.
moving and intimate portrayal.