Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Felicity Jones
There are always two sides to every story. The back and forth, cat and mouse, discussions between a suspected murderer and a discredited journalist takes focus in director Rupert Goold’s “True Story”, which also happens to be based on a true story. The truth lies somewhere in between the two men throughout the majority of the film, with analysis focusing on the unusual bond between the two and how each uses the other to discover reason behind the choices that have come to define them. What is unfortunate is that these thought-provoking insights are simply lost amongst a script that never explores the depths of the characters or the inherent drama that exists between them.
Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is a highly regarded New York Times investigative reporter whose reputation is targeted after writing an article with fabricated truths. Finkel retreats to Montana with his girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones) and begins to pick up the pieces of his now tarnished career. Finkel can’t find work until a terrible crime connects him with a murderer named Christian Longo (James Franco) who is accused of killing his entire family and then utilizing Finkel’s name as an alias while on the run.
Finkel at one point in the film tells a group of mourning family members that every person deserves to have their story told. It’s one of the more interesting comments in the film, one that displays Finkel’s misguided ambition and continued trouble with the truth while also portraying the persuasive power that Longo holds over Finkel. Is it all a guise or could Longo be telling the truth? This question concerning Longo’s ambiguous character is proposed early on though unfortunately doesn’t so much as hint at the answer than it does paint it on billboard for everyone to see. This lack of subtlety becomes a major problem for this narrative that is trying to build a mystery between the two men. When the answers aren’t being easily revealed the insightful questions, like the one that looks at the difficult moral choice for the somewhat arrogant Finkel, are merely touched upon. Better execution could have offered a change in the dynamic between the characters for greater dramatic effect.
Jonah Hill is a good actor though many of his skills are underutilized here. His character starts arrogant, then apologetic, and then fascinated, and Hill displays those attributes with ease but many times within the story these come off as heavy-handed and not necessarily assistive to the emotional tone of the moment. James Franco has an even tougher time playing the confusing suspect, while his soft mannerisms add a creepy quality the role is ultimately relinquished to glares and stares and strained monologues. Felicity Jones is left to fill in the gaps when Hill and Franco aren’t sitting across from each other. She isn’t given much but she makes the most of the opportunities provided.
Still, apart from the flaws, “True Story” attempts to do something different than what is often seen within the true crime genre. By focusing on these two men struggling with different aspects of the truth, the film touches on the beginnings of a refreshing filmmaking approach with interesting questions. It’s unfortunate that these questions aren't always satisfyingly explored.
2.50 out of 5.00