The most uncomfortably close relationships seem to come either between family members, or from journalists and murderers.
Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkel, a recently terminated New York Times journalist who’s struggling for work after a story gone wrong. One day, he receives a phone call from a man regarding an FBI Most Wanted individual named Christian Longo, who’s been captured and claimed to be living as Finkel. Longo and Finkel meet and form a potentially marriage shattering bond while Longo is in prison awaiting his trial. Finkel exchanges journalism tips for the real events behind Longo’s alleged heinous acts of murdering his family. Through the twists and turns in the movie, only at the end will Finkel uncover the True Story.
Their always appears to be an unsettling relationship between serial murderers and the journalists that cover them. Is anyone really going to say that Truman Capote (Author of In Cold Blood) wasn’t a strange character. These journalists surround themselves with death, and are affiliated with the worlds biggest sociopaths for long stretches at a time. We get to see the inner workings of those relationships in the new drama True Story. A prime example of just how difficult it can be to properly navigate that moral crossroads where crime and journalism intersect.
True Story spends much of it’s 90 minute run time trying to discover what it truly is. Tap dancing between murder mystery, courtroom drama, cat and mouse thriller, and journalistic expose, It has trouble settling in and it shows. In his feature directorial debut, Rupert Goold takes an ambitious stab at a difficult to materialize story. Taking a personal and stylized approach, shooting a large portion of the film in flashbacks, and close ups interrogation style, he allows for some fantastic back and forth, but doesn’t do much in assisting with story development.
Whats king here are the performances. Resident Bros, Jonah Hill and James Franco showcase their dramatic chops, doing all they can with some weakly scripted dialogue. Franco is surreal and intense enough to both engage the audience’s sympathies, while still creating an unsettling atmosphere. Franco is unquestionably the single most interesting part of this film and will literally be the reason people walk out of the theater satisfied. He is able to gracefully walk that line between friendly and charming, yet narcissistic and creepy. Alongside Franco is fellow goofball turned Oscar contender Jonah Hill. Hill has now been nominated for 2 academy awards (Moneyball, Wolf of Wall Street). That was not a misprint, He is actually a truly talented actor. While it is unlikely this film will garner him consideration for his 3rd nomination, he is still quite fascinating here. playing off of Franco’s Ted Bundy-esque character, Hill creates a banter and chemistry that radiates off the screen. Without him playing opposite Franco, it seems unlikely the film would have had any merit by way of it’s chemistry and performances. These two are truly fantastic and play off each other so well, it almost completely washes away the films many inefficiencies.. Almost.
The Story behind True Story is definitely interesting. Unfortunately for the film adaptation, the script is not. The characters are poorly written and only saved by the powerful performances and palpable chemistry of the actors playing them. Hill’s Finkel is written in such a way that the audience is meant to sympathize with, however for an accomplished journalist he makes some rather puzzling decisions. The eagerness in which Finkel jumps at Longo’s offer makes him come off like an opportunist, and then as the story unfolds he is made to be a dumb opportunist. He marvels at the macabre drawings and stories in correspondence from Longo, and even draws comparisons to his own style of note taking. This is meant to lead down a path to the theme of duality and darkness, but that is never really given any play.
As the movie carries on we are met a flurry of instances and individuals that create for a more perplexing story arch. The lead investigator played by classic sharp jawed tough guy John Burke, approaches Finkel and surreptitiously preaches to him to share what he has learned from his interactions with the accused, indicating that Longo is trying to pull a fast one on the jury. This particular aside, may have elicited some proverbial “uh-ohs” from the audience, if the film at any point had given any evidence or indication that Longo was anything other than completely guilty. Finkel is initially met with reservations of Longo’s guilt, only because if not, then the two leads initial exchanges might have meant something more menacing. Then by the time Finkel takes the stand to offer his ridiculously implausible version of what happened, it’s a wonder the jury didn’t burst into laughter upon completion of his testimony. All of this leads to wondering, if Finkel had 8 New York Times Cover Articles, how hard is it really to be a big time journalist if you’re this clueless about something so blatantly obvious?
There is no question this film came with good intentions, and an interesting premise, but it lacked all focus. The script was laughable, and in turn, the movie’s mood and feel was a giant mess. The complete misuse of Oscar nominated actress Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife, is also particularly egregious. Doing all she can with her limited and utterly undeveloped one note character, she does provide one dramatic scene between her and Franco that, if developed properly, could have been quite powerful. Franco gets a ton of credit here. He had every opportunity to go off the rails and go full boogey-man, but his ability to reign it in and become unsettlingly understated in his portrayal of a crazed sociopath, is truly commendable. Hill turns in a solid performance as well and the chemistry between him and Franco was quite a spectacle. If you decide to watch True Story, do so for the truly amazing performances, as the story will leave you scratching your head.
On performances alone 3/5 Not Bad Bro