Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol
Based on the memoir by Michael Finkel
Written and Directed by Rupert Goold (feature-film directorial debut)
True Story (opening today), like most "true stories" that make it to the big screen, is only based on a true story, with the usual number of movie-making stretches thrown in to try to spice things up. But the taste of this one is still bland. The over-riding problem with this true crime tale is that it's as manipulative as its subject, which might have been by design, but nothing ends up ringing "true" at all.
It centers around New York Times journalist, Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), who gets fired from his job after he unethically embellishes a story. Elsewhere, a man by the name of Christian Longo (James Franco) is accused of killing his wife and three children, but while on the lam, he uses the name "Michael Finkel" to avoid being discovered. He eventually is, and when the real Finkel learns of this identity theft, he decides to meet Longo in prison. Seeing an opportunity to turn his career around (since no other publications will touch him), Finkel decides that he is going to tell Longo's side of the story even while the court trial is going on, as Longo still maintains his innocence, and the two form an unlikely bond.
Look no further than the character of Finkel's wife Jill, for an example of what is wrong with the entire film. Played by Academy Award nominated British actress Felicity Jones, her character literally has nothing to do until one major scene late in the film that feels totally misplaced. Sporting an "American" accent and given no space to develop as a real character, she storms in and gives a major character a piece of her mind. Like the film itself, it's mostly talk and little substance.
Sadly, Jones is not the only actor who feels out of place. Jonah Hill too, is not quite able to carry the emotional weight of the story, and he lacks any chemistry whatsoever with both Jones and Franco. Franco gives the film's best performance, but it's a manipulative one.
And while the story itself is fairly compelling, first-time filmmaker Rupert Goold does nothing cinematically to enhance the tale. Boring shots follow boring shots, and at one point, the film literally switches between a scene with Hill and Franco, to a scene with Hill and Jones, and back, and forth. It never builds upon its interesting set-up, and there is not enough substance to carry us through towards the somewhat obvious conclusion.
Some of the best stories are those that are so strange that they must be true, but True Story is not one of these. It is a banal crime story full of miscast actors trying their damnedest to make something out of nothing.
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