The acting saves the slow moving crime drama True Story from being a dragged out snoozer. Based on a factual account of a murder and the discrediting of a rising star reporter at the New York Times, the film stretches the story making True Story lukewarm at best. While the movie has a disturbing plot involving a heinous killing, the nonchalant way the dastardly deed gets presented reduces the intensity of the unimaginable making it a side note to a con job. Even the long drawn out Casey Anthony trial was a lot more compelling than this “true story”.
The movie opens with New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) interviewing an African male who had purportedly been a witness to slave trading. Anxious to get the story to his editors, he does not check all his facts or the source. Finkel gets the cover of the New York Times Magazine and errors in the story are revealed leading to his disgraceful discharge.
With the announcement of the apology in the Times, accused killer Christian Longo (James Franco) uses Finkel’s name and position while fleeing to Mexico. When he gets extradited it comes to the attention of the real Finkel and Longo offers him the exclusive story of the murders of his family. So beings a drama involving one man’s pursuit of redemption and another man’s devious pathological chance for infamy.
Writer and director Rupert Goold takes a shot at instant fame with a high profile cast, a heinous crime and one of the most embarrassing acts by a reporter. But there’s not enough energy in the film to make it more than a Lifestyle news item. He stretches out his plot with repetitive banter between the two main characters and it slows down the film to a crawl at times. He sets up the audience early on with an exciting intro and great expectations then tones his film down as if we are being presented a transcript of the charges, quick scenes of the crime and the trial. The film was over by the midpoint and the finale fails to justify the ‘twist’ that you knew was coming all along.
On the bright side, both Hill and Franco are brilliant in their dramatic roles even though they struggle at times to deliver Goold’s dull script. Hill hits the nail on the head as Finkel the disgraced Times reporter delivering some of his best serious acting since Money Ball. As Finkel he’s a guy who gravely failed in his reporting and will do anything to redeem himself. Even by taking a proposition from a wicked murderer to get exclusivity to his true story.
Franco plays Christian Longo with abandoned. He develops the monster showing his aloofness, austere and pathological façade while manipulating his lawyer and Finkel to get the notoriety he seeks. His emotion gets no more than a cold and calculating person and that does ring clear. You would have to go back to his performance in 127 Hours to find as good a dramatic performance as he lays out in True Story. If only the script of True Story had been more gripping he’d have another chance for Oscar honors.
True Story has been rated R by the MPAA for language and some disturbing material. Movie produced photos and video of the murders are ghastly and gruesome so beware. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have scenes that are inappropriate for adolescents.
FINAL ANALYSIS: No more than a Lifetime story for cable. (C )
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Robert John Burke, Ethan Suplee, Gretchen Mol
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Genre: Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing material
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min
Release Date: April 17, 2015
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures