Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold (debut)
Written by: Rupert Goold (debut)
As eclectic as an actor James Franco is – a career decision that doesn’t always translate into great final products – it’s nice to witness when the Oscar-nominated actor (“127 Hours”) is able to pull back the reigns a bit and create a character that isn’t developed from some kind of cinematic experiment gone wrong. In “True Story,” Franco has a fact-based narrative to reference when he portrays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who is arrested for murdering his wife and children. It’s a somber and often times aggravating turn by Franco, but one that proves the actor doesn’t have to make some sort of convoluted statement with every role he plays.
Directed by first-time filmmaker and writer Rupert Goold, “True Story” follows the crime Christian committed in 2002. After he killed his family, he went on the run to Mexico where he used the alias Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a name belonging to a New York Times writer who had recently been fired for some sloppy journalism. When Michael finds out Christian has been pretending to be him, he immediately wants to know more about the case and what drove Christian to such a heinous act in hopes of writing a book about the incident and the man behind it. During their meetings in prison, Christian, who never admits to the murders, begins to spin tales for Michael. It’s a friendship formed on manipulation as Michael allows himself to be taken under the spell of the charming convict. Without knowing where the truth lies, Michael is trapped in a frustrating game where he doesn’t have control of the situation.
While Goold’s script will have audiences in the dark for most of the film, it’s probably good to know as little as possible about the true-to-life case before watching “True Story” unravel piece by piece. Hill and Franco work seamlessly together, especially when they’re staring across the table from one another during prison scenes. What’s most interesting is how audiences will find themselves in the same position as Michael during most of the film. Is Christian someone that deserves to be heard or are his words that of a sociopath? Goold does a fantastic job of pushing and pulling the story between his two leads.
Where the film could’ve used a little more tightening is with the larger themes Goold obviously wanted to make come to the forefront. The content is present in the script, but it doesn’t come through in the third act. Goold is looking to say something more meaningful about the deceitfulness of man, but there’s little support. Maybe that’s where Franco should’ve been Franco and stepped in to say something profound. A wasted Felicity Jones attempts to do just that in her only contribution to the film, but it’s not nearly enough to tie everything together with much conviction.