True Story follows disgraced reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) as he communicates with Christian Longo (James Franco), a man on trial for the murder of his family, who took on Finkel’s identity after the murders.
It’s touted as a crime thriller but it falls flat. The pacing is off, constantly giving us long, uneventful takes that do nothing for the story and end up plodding along. There are so many scenes of hands, mainly Longo’s. This could have been interesting, but it never went anywhere. Franco wasn’t able to enthuse his hands with enough personality to make the entire film better (I don’t think that would have been possible), and there was nothing significant about the gestures he did make. When Beltrami’s score was used, it was off-putting and forceful in its direction of the audience’s emotion. Although trying to be tense, the interview scenes without any music garner more atmosphere than anything else, but there is never anything happening for us to be tense about.
Both men have proven they can make the transition from comedy to drama in previous performances, but this one lacked a good script to mirror their ability. Perhaps that’s because there was nothing to really develop into a movie. Sure, Longo’s story is interesting enough. He murdered his family, took on the identity of a journalist, and later interacted with that journalist during his trial only to manipulate him and still end up guilty. Finkel made his reasonably successful book, but what may have come across on the pages did not translate to screen.
Felicity Jones is the only passionate character in True Story, but that emotion is exactly what makes her out-of-place. Her interaction with Longo only matters if he became obsessed with her, or she had reason to fear for her life – neither of which happened. Finkel, who dates her character, overwhelmingly seems like a jerk that is too caught up in his own potential return to success through Longo that he doesn’t think about anything else. Hill is able to personify that quite well, without immediately forcing the audience to like or hate him. By the end, he just seems weak and incapable, defeated by Longo.
As for Longo… there is no climax where we piece everything together and realize he actually is guilty, and no shining moment where Finkel gains his trust enough to deliver insight into why Longo lied or killed his family. James Franco does well with his minimal lines to create the image of a killer, but that doesn’t develop into a formidable figure like the serial killers we remember. His intelligence comes through, but Franco was never able to really deaden his eyes enough to seem like the psychopath the film wants to make him out to be.
I would give this 5/10. It’s not so bad that it gets a complete failing grade, but I also wouldn’t recommend it or consider watching it again. Which is a shame, I had
high hopes for a Franco-Hill dramatic piece.