Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Maria Dizzia, Ethan Suplee, Gretchen Mol, Robert John Burke
Written by: Rupert Goold, David Kajganich and (based on the novel) Michael Finkle.
Running Time: 99 mins
Release date: 17th July 2015
Stories about killers recounting the events have always been fascinating in a macabre way. We want to try to understand why these people did what they did. So when cinema throws up another true story about a killer, then that fascination takes over and you immediately become intrigued. True Story, however, has that opportunity and yet lets it slip away.
New York Times journalist, Michael Finkel, has just returned from Africa with a tale of slavery. When it is proved that the fact aren’t exactly true, Michael becomes disgraced and sacked from the paper. Left without a job, he soon discovers that a man who killed his whole family was caught and had been using his identity. Intrigued, he goes to meet the murderer, Christian Lango, and soon he starts to confide in Michael, allowing him to write the true story of what really happened. Yet there some things that don’t sit right.
Based on the best-selling book by Michael Finkel, Rupert Goold’s film has all the makings of an interesting premise. A writer who discovered to be a liar, finding out that a man who violently killed his family has been telling people he is that writer. The main question that should be asked is why? Even though it is asked, it isn’t fully examined and is talked about in a very matter of fact way. This is the problem with the film. Nothing is fully realised, as if they have only a limited amount of time to cram so much in.
So we don’t get to understand what was happening in Christian Longo’s mind. We don’t get to see Finkel relationship with his wife at straining point as he becomes more obsessed with the case. We don’t really get the muddled court case in which Longo pleads guilty for two murders and not guilty for the other two. It’s all very muddled and feels very incomplete. Which then leads to a film that doesn’t deliver much at all. In fact, once the credits start rolling, you’ve forgotten most of what happened.
The casting is interesting. James Franco and Jonah Hill have only been in laddish comedies together, so seeing them playing straight, you do expect them to talk about men’s genitalia or doing drugs. I know that the pair are also known for their dramatic performances too (both being Oscar nominees) however, for some reason nothing rings true. Franco is fine with his cold, emotionless stares. His use of his eyes are effective here. Hill is also good as the disgraced reporter and yet, you just get the feeling that the pair are holding back, that there is more they could give. Only Felicity Jones, as Finkel’s wife, Jill, really gets to grip with her character, even though the part is badly underwritten.
True Story is a mish-mash of what could be’s. This could have been a solidly acted, deeply disturbing, intriguing account of a killer. Instead it is a film of half ideas and incomplete sentences. I came out feeling slightly undernourished, as if there was a great film somewhere in there if the writers and director knew how to pull it out.