James Franco directs and stars in this earnest, only partially successful adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1936 novel about a fruit pickers’ strike in Depression-era California.

Franco plays the coldly calculating communist agitator behind the walkout, who puts his political cause ahead of the people he is purportedly aiding and is not beyond giving a ‘serendipitous tug’ to events to get things going.

He is fine on the nitty-gritty details of the strike, as he and his callow young protégé (Nat Wolff) stir the migrant workers up and cannily nudge Vincent D’Onofrio’s guileless family man into becoming their figurehead.

When it comes to charting the moral and emotional journeys the characters take, however, the movie is more clumsy. However, it always very watchable, thanks in part to vivid turns from the likes of Robert Duvall (the unbending landowner determined to crush the strike), Sam Shepard (the crusty but grudgingly sympathetic farmer who lets the strikers camp on his land), Ed Harris (a volatile veteran radical, befuddled from too many police beatings) and Bryan Cranston (the hard-nosed local sheriff).

Elsewhere in the star-packed cast, former Disney starlet Selena Gomez and The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson also take significant supporting roles.

The film premieres on Monday 15 January.