- on Friday, 17 April 2015 14:53
- by Frank Wilkins
As its name suggests, True Story is based on the real-life story about how disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) became involved with accused killer Christian Longo (James Franco) who murdered his entire family back in 2003. Too bad the film isn’t titled Great Story, Good Story, or heck, even Slightly Interesting Story.
It’s not that what actually happened in the real life turn-of-events story isn’t without fascination. The truth is indeed, in this case, quite stranger than fiction. But the problems with True Story the movie are many. At its base level, it never becomes evident what the filmmakers are trying to say beyond presenting a boilerplate point A to point B timeline of what actually went down that night on the Oregon coast.
Then, there are the numerous problems with what type of film this is. Since there’s never any doubt of Longo’s guilt, it isn’t really a murder mystery? A lack of any serious tension or meaningful character depth (though not without effort from Franco and Hill) prevent it from becoming a deep dramatic character study or psychological thriller. And writer/director Rupert Goold – who makes his directing debut here – is never quite able to get across what should be the true spark of the story: the high cost of success and the amount of mud through which we’re willing to drag our morals to avoid failure. Though there are occasional small bits of a Faustian tale in True Story, Goold is never quite able to reach his lofty ambitions.
As the film opens, we see Finkel getting the axe from his New York Times gig when it is discovered that the main characters from his most recent article, a magazine cover story about the modern-day slave trade in Africa is a misleading conglomeration of the experiences of several African children. Finkel has since retreated to his Montana log cabin where he writes on a freelance basis while trying to get steady work.
At nearly the same time, we see fugitive-on-the-run Longo being arrested in Mexico for the murders of his wife and three young children whom he allegedly killed and dropped in the Pacific Ocean. While on the run, Longo had been living under the alias of a New York Times writer named Michael Finkel. Finkel soon begins corresponding with Longo and the two eventually plan a series of face-to-face jailhouse meetings which eventually culminate in a book authored by Finkel and named True Story: Murder, Memoir, and Mea Culpa.
Franco and Hill do a good enough job as two deeply flawed guys trying to resurrect themselves while also playing one another. But Goold’s focus on their relationship seems a bit misguided. A bit more attention paid to Longo’s motives and state-of-mind or on the victims themselves might lend a bit more emotional attachment or even belief in their friendship. As it is, Franco’s Longo is squinty-eyed and withdrawn, while Hill plays his character low-keyed and disinterested. The flashes of dramatic brilliance each actor has displayed in previous roles (Franco in 127 Hours, Hill in Cyrus) barely registers here.
The facts of the widely publicized murder case are well known, but to be successful in movie form and to truly engage an audience, a filmmaker must create enough tension, uncertainty, and surprise to make us question our own memories of the actual event. Not only are there few surprises in True Story, but there’s an equal scarcity of enthusiasm and engrossment in what should be a fascinating game of cat and mouse between author and subject where lives are at stake.
Goold’s big idea was to blur the lines of morality and allow us to liken the lies of a journalist to those told by a killer… or something like that. The truth is that True Story is just a mildly interesting tale of what was a fascinating real-life murder.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing material
Runtime: 100 mins
Director: Rupert Goold
Writer: Rupert Goold
Cast: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones
Genre: Drama | Mystery
Tagline: Some stories are beyond belief
Memorable Movie Quote: "Sometimes the truth isn't believable. But that doesn't mean that it's not true."
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: April 17, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) meets accused killer Christian Longo (James Franco) who has taken on Finkels identity his investigation morphs into an unforgettable game of cat-and-mouse. Based on actual events, Finkels relentless pursuit of Longos true story encompasses murder, love, deceit and redemption.
No details available.