Review: True Story Features A Compelling Dynamic Between Its Two Leading Men
Title: True Story
Director: Rupert Goold
Screenwriter: Michael Finkel (memoir), Rupert Goold (screenplay), and David Kajganich (screenplay)
Principal Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, and Maria Dizzia
Summary: When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo – who has taken on Finkel’s identity – his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse. — via IMDB
I’ve complained about this time of year and how there aren’t any good movies. That might be true but there is one thing about the beginning of the year that I do like. The film festival movies that aren’t going for award nominations start to make the rounds. True Story was one of the Sundance 2015 moves that I meant to see and never got around to. There was an interesting play here with the two main stars and I always enjoy movies that are based on true stories. I’m fairly sure that True Story had already been picked up by the time Sundance rolled around which is usually a good sign.
True Story has an interesting story and a very compelling dynamic between Jonah Hill and James Franco, even if it isn’t mind blowingly good.
While there are plenty of other people in this cast, Felicity Jones has the biggest supporting role as Michael Finkel’s wife Jill. This is mostly a two man show between Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as Christian Longo. We watch the movie unfold as Finkel tries to revive his career and Longo tries to prove he’s innocent of the crime of killing his entire family. We see bits and pieces of the murder play out over the movie as Longo’s trial approaches. Finkel is also teaching Longo how to write as they develop a give and take system of giving each other information. The interesting thing is that despite the title the truth is always just beyond the reach of not only the audience but Finkel as well.
This is helped by the fact that Franco and Hill are both very well cast. Franco mostly comes off like an eternal film school snob, but he loses himself in the role of Longo. There are a lot of subtle cues in the performance as Franco plays Longo as someone who is very earnest but also comes off as extremely dangerous. One of the most tense scenes in the movie is when Longo calls Jill, and while the contents of the conversation aren’t anything interesting the sense of danger is thick in the air. We know that Longo is in prison yet we’re still expecting him to jump out of the shadows like a cheesy slasher villain. Hill also brings his A game to Finkel. He plays Finkel as a writer who is very down on his luck and having that be all his own fault. The story of Longo is his chance of redemption and everything is riding on this.
This is the first outing for director Rupert Goold and he does a very good job of adapting this material. The entire movie is very beautifully shot as he makes sure there are plenty of flashbacks to Longo’s family so we get a sense of who was killed. The pacing is also very well done as the movie breezes by in an easy 100 minutes. It’s not until the trial that everything starts to really fall into place, or fall apart depending how you look at it, but I appreciated that Goold made sure that despite the title “truth” is the furthest thing that we walk away from. The only downside is that despite the great dynamic and writing the movie isn’t anything mind blowingly good. The ending is also undercut by a final reveal that, while not surprising, completely destroys the intent of a great scene.
True Story has great performances with a very promising first time director, but I feel it’s doomed to get lost in the sea of indie movies based on real events. There is plenty here to like, but it just isn’t good enough to make it stand out.