True Story

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Release: Friday, April 17, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Rupert Goold; David Kajganich

Directed by: Rupert Goold

True story: Rupert Goold’s cinematic adaptation of the memoir penned by disgraced New York Times writer Michael Finkel elicits more yawns than being forced to sit through days’ worth of testimony in an actual courtroom would.

It ought to be a compliment that this would-be crime thriller plays out with the fastidiousness of a trial hearing, but obsession with detail and determination to present evidence in a nonlinear fashion don’t translate into a compelling narrative. Ironically the slow-burn nature of this event is what ends up turning viewers off circa the halfway point. If you are really determined, you might give the last half the courtesy of staying awake long enough to see what the judge’s ruling is.

James Franco is Christian Longo, an Oregon man accused of murdering his wife and three children and who’s apprehended while laying low in Cancún for a time. Jonah Hill portrays Finkel, whose fabrication of certain details regarding his cover story on the African slave trade leads to his dismissal from the paper and a long period of unemployment. The two become entangled when Longo claims to be Finkel upon his arrest. Finkel — and by extension, we — demand an explanation as to why he chose his name. He wants exclusive access to Longo, but he’s limited to the sessions the prison will provide. In exchange for giving the journalist the inside scoop, he wants to learn to write, as he’s been a longtime admirer of Finkel’s work. Longo also wants Finkel’s word that he won’t divulge any information to outsiders.

These discussions constitute the bulk of True Story‘s narrative, and while they offer the pair of leads a chance to bite into their most somber material thus far in their careers, they also offer viewers many an opportunity to tune out and wonder if they’ve left the sprinklers in the yard running. (It’s alright, when I get back I’ll have a nice patch of overly-watered grass to enjoy watching grow.)

When Goold isn’t spending time highlighting Hill and Franco’s remarkably restrained performances — and if there’s any real reason to go and see this film it is for them rather than the shocking case — he’s weaving back and forth between cuts of Longo’s past and shots of a superfluously cast Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife, Jill. As little as her dramatic prowess is utilized here Goold could have cast anyone. Why he opted for an undoubtedly expensive bit of casting is almost as much of a head-scratcher as how Longo, by all accounts a seemingly normal man, could be capable of such a heinous crime. Not to mention, Hill and Jones don’t particularly make for a convincing on-screen couple. Romance doesn’t necessarily have to be depicted (don’t worry, it’s not) but chemistry never hurt a film.

If I’ve given the impression True Story is a terrible movie, I should probably rephrase my major complaint. The odd relationship between Christian Longo and Michael Finkel attracts, though ultimately this story, this investigation into what is true and what isn’t has the feel of a compelling A&E True Crime segment. That Goold never does anything outrageous, like drastically alter facts in order to derive a denouement more befitting of cinematic spectacle is a strength. But again, the irony is a killer.

We should be impressed by how much True Story disturbs us. We should feel offended by the crime. We shouldn’t feel indifferent.

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2-5Recommendation: The film completely subverts previous conceptions of James Franco and Jonah Hill. The pair give incredible performances (this might be Franco’s best work since becoming Aron Ralston) but they’re unfortunately wasted in a sluggishly paced film that doesn’t add up to much in the end. I’d recommend a rental for the performances but not the drive out to the theater.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes the truth isn’t believable. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not true.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com  

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21 thoughts on “True Story

    • The actors are all good (minus a wasted Felicity Jones) in a story that doesn’t seem to appreciate them. It’s a frustrating experience. At least it was for me. It’ll make a decent rental at some point but man I was the same as you: drawn in by a good/misleading trailer! Haha

  1. I’ll be honest, Franco has been on autopilot for a while, so it’s great to see him back on the form I know he can deliver. Shame the film doesn’t match his performance. Great read Tom.

    • It really does him no justice. These performances (Hill is awesome as well, though not as good) are going to be frustratingly thrown to the wayside b/c of True Story’s poor performance. It shouldn’t do very well when the script/direction are so lackluster. Such a bummer man.

      And thank you, as always

    • It definitely sounds less awkward when Franco says it. When you write it out and read it back yeah it is kinda whack.

  2. Never heard of this one, damn you guys have so many different movies screen! Though from the sounds of it I’m not missing much. Doesn’t sound like the most riveting watch thats for sure

    • I always think Knoxville gets the short stick when it comes to a variety of releases, so that’s cool to hear I’ve made you jealous! 😉

      True Story is one to skip for sure. Rent it out sometime if you have nothing else going on, but yeah it’s a disappointment for me.

        • I saw first trailers of it, noticed how serious Franco and Hill were in it and thought that this would not be a disappointment. And to be honest their performances are better than what I thought they’d be. But the surrounding drama really left a lot to be desired.

  3. I hate it when wonderful performances are wasted on lacklustre movies. It’s really too bad that some of Franco’s best work (I’m taking your word for it) is spent in a movie that so few people will see. I’m going to skip this one. Thanks for the heads up

    • Ahhh Mikey, you have a way with words. 😉

      No, but really…..this is boring as shit. A big letdown for me.

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