True Story (2015)
Directed by Rupert Goold
The trailer may imply that “True Story” is about a calculating killer’s choice to give his final interview to a disgraced New York Times journalist. But this is really the story of two comedic actors struggling to find their footing in drama.
Jonah Hill, who plays reporter Mike Finkel, comes off as pushy in an attempt to be taken seriously. I thought films like “Moneyball” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” comedy-dramas which both earned Hill supporting actor Oscar nominations, would have served as a buffer to get him into dramatic film – but it’s impossible to take him seriously. It seems that he tries at all costs to avoid humor, even when it could have been natural for his character to crack a joke. He tries too hard to prove himself. Playing accused killer Christian Longo, James Franco repeats the minimal effort he used in movies like “Homefront” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Deep sighs are used in an attempt to be mysterious, but it really just shows off Franco’s lack of talent. Even his five-minute courtroom monologue is yawn-worthy. He’s entirely devoid of emotion. This is method acting at its worst. I still say his best role may have been 2008’s “Pineapple Express.” And perhaps even more disappointing is Felicity Jones, playing Finkel’s wife Jill. Coming off an Oscar nomination for “The Theory of Everything,” her talent is completely wasted.
“True Story” is based on the true story (yes, shocking, I know) of Longo, who was accused in 2001 of murdering his wife and three children. When he was arrested after fleeing to Cancun, Longo claimed to be Mike Finkel of The New York Times, a reporter whose career he followed very closely. Just months earlier, Finkel had been let go from the Times for slightly altering the story of an African child-slave he interviewed, in order to make his story more impactful. Longo gave his last interview to Finkel, and Finkel decided to write a full-length book telling Longo’s side.
The story, of course, couldn’t really be altered for the movie. That would literally defeat the entire purpose of the story, which is about telling the truth and not beefing stories up for the sake of the storyteller’s success. And the story itself is okay. But the delivery was dead on arrival. Screenwriter David Kajganich (“The Invasion”) and writer/director Rupert Goold don’t give us any character development. We know nothing about Mike, and even less about his wife. Felicity Jones is silent for most of her screentime, leaving the audience confused about what role she played in the story at all. It seems as though they wanted to make her more of a major player than she was. And the script itself is riddled with clichés. Finkel is absurdly righteous, saying things like “Everybody deserves to have their story heard” in a laughably serious tone.
So far, “True Story” is easily the biggest let-down of 2015. With four Oscar nominations among its three stars, I hoped for something a little better than this. No, a lot better than this.