Opening today at both art houses and multiplexes:
TRUE STORY (Dir. Rupert, Goold, 2015)
Maybe the tag-line for this film should be “James Franco and Jonah Hill together again, but this time you won’t be laughing.”
In this adaptation of Michael Finkel’s 2006 bestseller “True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa,” Franco and Hill ditch the stoner shenanigans (and their stoner buddy ensemble) of their previous movie, THIS IS THE END, and play it dead serious.
Hill steps into the shoes of Finkel, who we first meet as a star New York Times reporter working on a story in Africa about the modern-day slave trade. In short order we are also introduced to Franco as fugitive Christian Longo on the lam in Cancún, Mexico using Finkel’s name as an alias.
Finkel is fired by the Times for fabricating large portions of his article, while Longo is apprehended by the FBI for the murder of his wife and three children in Oregon. After learning that Longo used his name, the disgraced and desperate Finkel arranges to meet with him in prison.
Longo, graced with Franco charm, tells Finkel that he’s a big fan, and before you know it, they’re collaborating on a book about the murders together. Longo agrees to give Finkel exclusive access on the condition that the journalist teaches the suspected killer how to write.
So it’s got a SHATTERED GLASS meets CAPOTE vibe, with Hill’s Finkel and Franco’s Longo developing a creepy relationship as Longo’s trial looms closer. It’s obvious that Longo is manipulating Finkel from their initial encounter, but the film trudges onward continuously trying to make a point that it had already made in the first 10 minutes.
That point is that these two guys are alike. They are both characters with deplorable moral ethics; every action they make can be seen as self serving. And, of course, they’re both using each other – we get it.
The rest of the cast seems to know this. Felicity Jones, as Finkel’s girlfriend Jill (the archetypal worrying woman on the side), even goes to confront Longo to tell him she’s got his number in one of the film’s most contrived scenes. Even if this really happened, and I bet it didn’t, it’s a horribly handled plot point that adds nothing. Well, except that it gives Jones something to do.
Scripted by first time filmmaker Rupert Goold and suspense scribe David Kajganich (THE INVASION, BLOOD CREEK), TRUE STORY has neither the depth nor thrills (or even attempts at thrills) required to be considered a psychological thriller. It’s more a tense drama with transparently artsy ambition.
The storytelling, whether true or not, gets pretty muddled and strained towards the end. I got annoyed at Finkel for falling for Longo’s shtick, which at times reminded me of Franco’s breakout Freaks and Geeks role, Daniel Desario, but with a brain.
This whole overly calculated, and bleedingly obvious, exercise will most likely be jokingly dismissed by Franco and Hill someday in another meta-minded project with their fellow graduates of Apatow University. Probably like this: “Remember when we did that TRUE STORY shit? We were all so serious ‘n shit? Remember that? Yeah, me either.”