Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones
By all accounts, True Story should have been a gripping, taught trifecta of brilliant performances. After all in the previous two dramatic films (The Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball) comedian Jonah Hill landed him Oscar nominations. True Story is director Rupert Goold’s first feature and the first film for Felicity Jones post Theory of Everything Oscar nomination. A manipulative murderer behind bars telling his story to disgraced New York Times journalist should have been a recipe for a modern day Capote. Yet the film sputters and spins around proving it must take someone like Bennett Miller or Martin Scorsese to get a good performance out of Hill, who is the film’s weakest link.
Before being apprehended in Cancun, Christian Longo (Franco) charged with the murder of his wife and three children, was using New York Times writer Mike Finkel’s name as an alias. Almost at the same time, Finkel (Hill) was being terminated from the prestigious paper for dishonesty in a recent story. Looking for his next big story, Finkel visits Longo in prison and finds an opportunity to regain some credit and fame. The two become close as they exchange stories, letters and Finkel quickly secures an advance for a book to be published after the trail. It’s during the trail that Finkel becomes increasingly aware of Longo’s manipulation and his own guilt for not aiding the investigation with the information he obtained from the accused.
Franco’s performance is about the only element that elevates the film from a Lifetime movie.
With severe pacing and editing problems, True Story never builds on suspense when showing how the wife and children died, it never created tension between their prison conversations, nor does it attempt to explain either characters true motives or psychology. It feels more like a movie based off an article based on the novel. It’s impossible not to think of Truman Capote’s interaction with Perry Smith, a writer/murder relationship that spawned two modern films (coincidentally one of them directed by Bennett Miller). Goold simply moves from one scene to the next without any cinematic flare or interest in making these characters more than forgettable one notes. We don’t walk away from this story feeling the impact or the consequences.
The one moment where Jones gets to do more than just gaze at her husband from their Bozeman, Montana home is the film’s most explosive moment. Otherwise Jones talent is nearly wasted on a script that essentially showcases her as a stay at home female. Franco is an excellent choice to play Longo, he seems to relish the opportunity to get inside the mind of someone so evil and manipulative. Franco’s performance is about the only element that elevates the film from a Lifetime movie. Hill is simply miscast here, he fits the pompous, arrogant nature of the character in the beginning of the story, but he just isn’t inside this guy’s head enough to be riveting in solo scenes. At nearly every turn the direction of this film fails the actors, the story and especially the audience.
Misses nearly every opportunity to turn this into something powerful, explosive and thrilling.