When you think of Jonah Hill and James Franco in a movie called True Story, the last thing you’d expect is a serious drama about a journalist and a suspected killer (you’re probably thinking a homo-erotic stoner comedy). That’s perhaps why their latest collaboration hasn’t done well with critics (45% Rotten Tomatoes) or at the box office (US$5.1 million).
To be honest, while the film has its fair share of flaws, I didn’t think it was bad at all. It’s a really fascinating true story that explores the complex relationship between two interesting characters with questionable motives.
Hill plays Michael Finkel, a journalist whose career is in tatters after his editors at the New York Times discover that he was not entirely truthful in his latest feature article. While scrambling for work back home in Montana with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones), he stumbles upon a unique opportunity: a man who charged with multiple homicides, Christian Longo (Franco), was using Finkel’s identity while on the run.
Sensing a book in the vein of the classic The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, Finkel visits Longo in prison and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Much of the film revolves around the face-to-face meetings between the two, with each gradually opening up and divulging more about their personalities. Finkel sees the relationship as his chance for career redemption, but also begins to develop a kinship with the charming suspect, who remains evasive about his role in the deaths, if any.
I like how the story develops before Longo’s trial, so the court scenes end up being the film’s climax. True Story‘s biggest problem is that it fails to take full advantage of the intrigue due to a long and slow-burning middle patch where the narrative stalls. It’s an unfortunate lull, because it’s supposed to be the time when the story digs below the surface to get to the core of the characters, or at least build them up sufficiently for the climatic finish.
As a result, True Story lacks that heart-pounding suspense and the bone-chilling sensations a more effective film would have brought out of the premise. It’s like all the ingredients are there, but the chef couldn’t quite put them together the right way to maximise the tastiness of the dish. When I was watching the film I wondered whether it might have been more suited to being a stage production. Interestingly, the director of the film, Rupert Goold, is known predominantly as a theater director and had only made two Shakespearean TV films before this one.
Still, Hill and Franco deliver solid performances and exude expected chemistry. While the film is no doubt duller than it ought to have been, it certainly has more depth than your average Law & Order episode. Fans of the two actors and those interested in true crime stories could be pleasantly surprised.
3.5 stars out of 5