As the name suggests, “True Story” is based on a true story. Too bad it’s not an interesting story. There are greeting cards with more depth than this feature film.
Jonah Hill and James Franco — working together for the first time since the offbeat “This Is the End” — star in this story of accused killer Christian Longo (Franco) who uses the alias of New York Times writer Michael Finkel (Hill) while on the run.
After Longo is captured, Finkel becomes interested in why the man charged with the murder of his wife and kids opted to use his name. Then Finkel becomes obsessed with Longo to the point that he begins to lose his objectivity.
That sounds like an interesting story. But the script by director Rupert Goold, which is based on Finkel’s memoir, is mostly filled with mundane moments where the men discuss life and writing. There is plenty of potential for turns and twists, but nothing ever happens.
A major reason the movie is so flat is Franco. His character should be a man of mystery. There should be no way of knowing if he committed the crime. He needs to give those glancing looks that makes the hair stand up on a person’s neck. He never does.
An actor like Sam Rockwell or Edward Norton knows how to play this kind of character. They accent what appears to be a normal psyche with just enough swipes of insanity to make the character an enigma.
Even if the audience knows every detail of a true story, the actors, writers and directors must create enough uncertainty that the viewer begins to doubt their own memories of the events. That’s the best way to keep the audience engaged.
Instead, Franco sleepwalks his way through the performance.
Hill could have helped Franco find that spark, but he shows a laissez-faire approach to his role, too. Finkel was a disgraced writer when he met Longo. Writing a book with the accused killer could get him back on top, a point that should have made Hill’s performance explode. There is barely a pop.
The best work comes from Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife, Jill. She is the only person in the cast who seems to understand the gravity of being involved with a man accused of horrific crimes. She has strong emotions about the events and the relationship between her husband and the man on trial.
If only Goold had gotten the same kind of performance out of Franco and Hill, then he would have had an intriguing tale of mental chess. Instead, Jones is the exception in a tale with dull rules.
Goold‘s overall direction is uninspired. He does nothing to build tension or uncertainty. Scenes are shot without any creativity. This is a workmanlike production that does just enough to hold the story together.
“True Story” doesn’t try hard enough to be good or bad. It’s put together and presented in such a blasé manner that it ends up as simply unmemorable.
That’s the truth about this story.