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'Jim: The James Foley Story' looks at the life and legacy of a journalist slain by ISIS

'Jim: The James Foley Story' looks at the life and legacy of a journalist slain by ISIS
James Foley, center, is shown in a documentary that explores the late journalist’s life work. (Manu Brabo / Sundance Institute via AP)

The first American citizen executed by the Islamic State, James Foley worked as a stringer for GlobalPost and other outlets. But you won't see his grisly 2014 beheading in the documentary "Jim: The James Foley Story," the opening titles assure us.

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A childhood friend, filmmaker Brian Oakes, reconstructs Foley's soul searching that began in earnest when he quit teaching to become a journalist. He purged himself of worldly possessions and traveled to tinderboxes where the cost of living was low and freelance work easy to line up.

Foley's family members, colleagues and prison cell mates vividly recount his 2011 imprisonment in Libya, his difficulty reacclimating to home life in sleepy New England after his release, before leaving again for Syria and enduring imprisonment by ISIS.

Guilt-ridden interviewees paint Foley as saintly, selfless and idealistic, if somewhat naive, alluding to the competitive and reckless aspects of war reporting. Oakes emphasizes the lengths family members went through to secure Foley's release, leaving an impression of government inaction and glossing over a botched special ops rescue mission that has since been declassified. There's also surprisingly scant assessment of Foley's life's work, considering the major role journalism played here.

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"Jim: The James Foley Story"

No MPAA rating

Running time: 2 hours

Playing: Laemmle Claremont 5. Debuts on HBO Feb. 6

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