EXCLUSIVE: Multi-hyphenate James Franco, no stranger to classic American literature, has taken his first directorial shot at moving John Steinbeck to the screen with an adaptation of In Dubious Battle. Originally published in 1936, the novel is the lesser-known title in Steinbeck’s unofficial Dustbowl Trilogy — which also includes Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath — but has been hailed as among his strongest works. It’s a study of man’s struggle against himself set during a Great Depression labor dispute whose themes are still relevant today. Check out the first trailer above.

In Dubious Battle will have its world premiere in Venice next weekend as part of the film festival’s Cinema nel Giardino (Cinema in the Garden) section. Franco has been to Venice many times — wearing one or more of his many different hats. For In Dubious Battle, he directs and stars alongside Nat Wolff and an impressive ensemble cast. Matt Rager, who wrote Franco’s William Faulkner adaptation The Sound And The Fury, penned the script.

Wolff plays Jim Nolan, a young recruit who joins Franco’s activist Mac McLeod to organize a group of California fruit-pickers oppressed by Robert Duvall’s ruthless tycoon. The film chronicles their infiltration of the workers’ world, the ensuing strike, and how they both help and complicate the situation — and at what cost. Also among the cast are Vincent D’Onofrio, Bryan Cranston, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Selena Gomez, Josh Hutcherson, Ashley Greene, John Savage and Zach Braff.

In Dubious Battle is an AMBI Group presentation in association with Aperture Media Partners of a Rabbit Bandini and That’s Hollywood production. Producers are Monika Bacardi, Andrea Iervolino, Vince Jolivette, Scott Reed, Ron Singer and Iris Torres. AMBI Distribution has international sales.