Rupert Goold, artistic director responsible for the recent American Psycho musical, makes his screen debut in True Story, a cat and mouse psychological thriller starring Jonah Hill and James Franco. Michael Finkel (Hill), a disgraced New York Times Magazine journalist creeps out of self-exile when he discovers Christian Longo (Franco), a man accused of murdering his family, has been using Finkel’s identity whilst hiding out in Mexico. The two strike up an unlikely friendship as Finkel records Longo’s story.
Adapted from the real-life Finkel’s book by David Kajganich, True Story’s primary issue is that the story just isn’t interesting. A tired tale of career redemption by a money grabbing hack is sure to inspire a dull novel and an even duller adapted screenplay. Goold does the best he can with what he has but it’s hardly gripping stuff. What starts with an intriguing and vaguely upsetting slow-mo shot, becomes flatter and flatter until you can’t really care about what’s going on.
Hill is miscast, not exactly running the film into the ground, but hardly lending the emotional depth required to play a man so caught up in such a bizarre friendship. Though arguably that’s the most interesting and best flexed part of the story, the friendship between these characters and disappointment that comes from future revelations. Felicity Jones outshines both Hill’s doddery lack of focus and Franco’s glazy eyed killer, especially in a daring confrontation with the smug Longo. Similarly, Robert John Burke manages to achieve a comparatively mind boggling level of conviction and gravitas in his collective 5 minutes screen time, compared to Hill or Franco in the whole film.
Relying on Marco Beltrami’s score to instigate tension (along with Masanobu Takayanagi’s coldly clinical shooting) doesn’t make the film better, it just highlights how flat the leads are. The closing cards reveal that the real life Finkel is still in touch with Longo, and visits him the first Sunday of every month, even after all they went through. Now that’s interesting, why didn’t we get that story?
True Story is dull as dishwater. Recycling concepts, dealt with way more concisely in numerous likewise thrillers, sporting dull lead performances, and some hopelessly dire dialogue, it won’t have you biting your nails in anticipation.
Dir. Rupert Goold
Stars. James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke