I'm not going to waste everyone's time debating whether or not this film should have been made. It's been made.
First of all, this was so much better than I expected. On paper, some of the casting decisions look atrocious, but no one turns in a bad performance. Franco, as Darl, is (unsurprisingly) unable to explore Darl's mind the way Faulkner did in the original novel, and much of the "who" and the "why" of the character is left for the viewer to interpret. Of course, the novel itself relied heavily on the interpretation of the reader, so I'm not going to be too hard on Franco for that. As for the actors that looked terrible on paper...well, for me, they were Danny McBride as Vernon Tull and Logan Marshall-Green as Jewel. The latter, I have to say, BLEW ME AWAY. I can honestly say he stole the show for me. In the novel, my favorite character was always Darl, but Marshall-Green's performance had me focusing more on Jewel throughout the course of the film. Interestingly, Franco frames Jewel like a saint in some of the film's more beautiful camerawork, leading me to wonder whether the director saw Jewel as more of a protagonist than I did. Now, to McBride. What, you say? Danny McBride in a role like this? Favoritism on Franco's part, perhaps? These were the things I thought before seeing the film. Fortunately, it doesn't matter either way, because Vernon Tull's character is significantly downplayed in the film, and his wife Cora is cut out almost entirely. Still, McBride doesn't do anything he shouldn't, and while I still can't say I understand the casting, there isn't really enough for his character to do for me to judge his performance.
Also, Tim Blake Nelson. If you only see this film for one reason, let it be Tim Blake Nelson. His immersion into the character of Anse, patriarch of the Bundren family is complete; he manages to walk that rare line where if he'd have hammed it up a bit more, it would have been caricature, and if he'd have downplayed it just a tad, the character would have been ineffectual. As he is, Nelson nails the character. His accent, hampered by the character's abominable dentistry, is suitably garbled, and the truth of his words suitably ambiguous.
For the sake of completion, Ahna O'Reilly, Jim Parrack, and Brady Permenter were spot-on as Dewey Dell, Cash, and the intriguing Vardaman, respectively, but seriously. Tim Blake Nelson.
Now, on to the film itself. Franco attempts to bring Faulkner's kaleidoscopic narrative to film with the use of split screens, and I can't say I can think of a better way. However, his use of this technique varies from inspired to meaningless to confused. The chief issue I had was when two versions of the same event were presented side by side (a fantastic idea) but one of them was quite obviously not from anyone's point of view. I would have appreciated seeing these scenes through the eyes of two different characters, but instead I get X's view, and then another extraneous camera angle. It's like watching a deleted scene (I can almost hear Franco saying, "We COULD have shot it this way...). At other times, though, the technique works brilliantly, as when we see Dewey Dell hearing Darl's words, yet we see that Darl's lips are not moving. Is Darl actually saying anything? Is Dewey Dell reading his body language? Or could they have a telepathic connection? This is the kind of scene that justifies bringing the book to film.
Many will be pleased that the story survives in pretty much its complete form. In many cases the characters are speaking right out the book. Speaking of which, I'm sure you've noticed how hearing dialogue straight from a book can sound very fake and affected? Surprisingly, I didn't feel that way while watching this one. The actors become their characters to such an extent that words belong to the characters, not to Faulkner and his novel. Unfortunately, towards the end, the story becomes incredibly confusing to anyone who hasn't read the book. This is mostly due to Franco's inability to show what's going on in Darl's head. In the book, there is enough there for readers to form all sorts of interpretations about what happens. In the film, Franco hasn't given us enough of Darl to allow for complete understanding of the event itself, let alone interpretations as to the motivations behind it.
Overall, I was very pleased that the film was not atrocious (which I was expecting) and overjoyed that it turned out to be a very good film. While it may not accomplish anything that the book did not, it gives the characters a face. Tim Blake Nelson turns in an outstanding performance as Anse Bundren, Logan Marshall-Green is just as good as Jewel, and we even get a surprisingly nuanced sequence pertaining to Vardaman that lends the film a sense of sympathy the book did not possess. All in all, it is certainly a worthwhile experience. Here's the but: read the book first. Not only because the book is always better (in this case, it's one of the greatest literary achievements of all time), but because knowledge of the book is necessary for an understanding of the ending, and for a deeper understanding of the characters and story as a whole (Darl especially). See it, people! Complaining about the vile, satanic Franco and his unending blasphemous attacks on the bronzed giants of literature just serves to cement popular opinion about the literary establishment being an old men's club. Read some Stephen King and shut up.