Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Director: Rupert Goold
Screenplay: Michael Finkel, Rupert Goold
Drama/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Date: April 17, 2015
Scott, after all the fictional stories we’ve reviewed it will be nice to review a True Story.
How true, Greg. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) who is a writer for the New York Times. He is on an assignment writing about child slavery in Uganda. Under deadline, he combines the facts about 5 children to create a composite and his story appears on the cover of the Times. The problem is that when someone fact checks him the story falls apart. His editor fires him and Finkel believes his career is over.
Meanwhile, in Mexico Christian Longo (James Franco) is on the run from the police. He is accused of murdering his family. He is using Finkel’s name as an alias. When Longo is captured, the story hits the papers and Finkel, with few other options, approaches Longo to write the story of the murders and his trial.
Greg, True Story intrigued me. The movie takes us down several psychological paths involving greed and deceit, and how these vices lead people to destruction. Finkel allows his ambition to bite him in the ass twice in this film. First, he bends the truth in an article to make himself and his writing look better, and then later he allows Longo to bend the truth for the exact same reasons. Finkel isn’t a bad or villainous person but his self-serving drives continue to steer him toward disaster in this movie.
Finkel and Longo are two divergent heroes in that they are brought together, are compelled to work collaboratively, and then are wrenched apart at the end by a painful truth. True Story is, of course, based on actual facts, and going into this film — and at about a third of the way into the film — I had no idea how the story would resolve itself. But by the half-way point, it becomes pretty clear that Longo is yanking Finkel’s chain, as the movie introduced us to no other possible characters who could have killed Longo’s family. This fact made the ending a bit anti-climactic. Still, I enjoyed the ride.
Scott, with two academy award nominees (Hill and Franco) I expected a taught character study. Instead I got some really bad acting and some incredibly bad plot twists. When Longo (Franco) uses a literary term on the stand that Finkel (Hill) taught him earlier, Hill goes slack-jawed and rushes to the bathroom to slam his fist into a stall. It wasn’t the least bit dramatic. I think we can rightfully expect more from an actor who basically paid to be in a Martin Scorsese film (The Wolf of Wall Street).
The hero structure is, as you point out, a divergent hero story. The two characters come together for their one quest (to write a novel together) and go their separate ways at the end. The supporting cast is a little thin. And that’s too bad, because watching Finkel and Longo carry on like two talking heads for two hours was tedious. Finkel’s wife (Felicity Jones) was actually more interesting than Finkel. She detects Finkel’s ambitions and that he is falling into the same trap that got him fired from the Times. There’s a nice scene late in the film where she confronts Longo, and it is the best scene in the show.
You’re right, I was convinced that Finkel’s wife was falling for Longo, and I was pleasantly surprised when she visited Longo to verbally eviscerate him instead. The last thing we needed was for Hollywood to perpetuate the stereotype of women falling for the bad boy. As you point out, Greg, the supporting cast plays such a peripheral role in True Story. The focus of the film is on the dynamic chess game between an author and his subject. Or rather a cat-and-mouse game in which it isn’t clear who is the mouse and who is the cat.
The villain in True Story is Longo, who emerges as a brutal psychopath. Finkel is no choir boy either, as he is a known prevaricator and manipulator himself. And so on one level, this movie is disappointing in that we have two main characters, neither of whom are heroic and neither of whom change or grow at all in this film. They are who they are and their failure to transform themselves dooms them both. Perhaps this fact alone dooms this movie to mediocrity.
I think the acting in this film is what dooms it to mediocrity. Both players are full of themselves and deliver little punch. When the secondary characters are actually more interesting than the leads, there isn’t much hope. I won’t be recommending True Story to my friends, but it might be a good recommendation for my enemies. I give it just 1 Reel out of 5.
As we’ve discussed at some length, both characters are uninteresting and uninspiring. Finkel goes on to continue to interview Large even after the events of the movie. Their relationship doesn’t imply that either of them learned anything of value. I give them just 1 Hero of of 5.
The only secondary character of note is Felicity Jones as Finkel’s love interest/wife. She puts in a performance that offers the only tension in an otherwise lackluster presentation. She gets 2 out of 5 Cast points.
True Story is far from riveting but the fact that it tells a non-fictional narrative makes it somewhat compelling. Jonah Hill and James Franco aren’t going to win any Academy Awards with their performances but they do a commendable job portraying two men whose lives become strangely intertwined. If you enjoy a psychologically interesting tale of deceit laced with greed, check out this film. I give it 3 Reels out of 5.
We have here a pair of divergent heroes who pique our interest but who never learn from their mistakes. Finkel and Longo are greedy and psychopathic, respectively, at the outset of the film and remain that way throughout. The best heroes in cinema evolve and grow, but not these two characters. Hence I can only give them 2 Heroes out of 5.
The supporting cast is minimally important. I agree with you, Greg, that Finkel’s love interest is the only character worth noting and even she is pretty dispensable in the grand scheme of things. There’s just not much cast support here in a movie that desperately needed some depth of casting. I agree that 2 Casts out of 5 is an appropriate rating here.