True Story

Directed By: Rupert Goold

Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol, Betty Gilpin, and John Sharian

Both James Franco and Jonah Hill are extremely versatile actors.  Having appeared in superhero movies, comedies, dramas, animated films, and everything in between over the years, these two are now perhaps a bit overexposed.  I'm a fan of both of them.  However, they're always in something at the box office.  It's time for them to take a little break.  With fourteen movies either released or scheduled to be released in 2015, Franco is undoubtedly the more exposed of the two.  Fresh from The Wolf of Wall Street, The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and 22 Jump Street, Hill hasn't exactly been quiet either.  Regardless, both need to take a break as each actor, to differing extents, must strike a balance between quality and quantity.  Their latest outing together in True Story certainly illustrates this.

Mike Finkel (Hill) is a journalist for The New York Times.  Having already written nine front page articles, he's just hit number ten by delving into the destitute lives of those that live in developing nations as well as the charities that are failing to improve said lives.  There's just one problem.  The details of his article don't all ring completely true.  While all the atrocities about which Mike writes do actually happen, they just don't happen to the same individual as he tells it to write a more engrossing article.  His bosses at The New York Times learn of this, and naturally his days with the esteemed newspaper are numbered.  Without a job, Mike soon finds himself spending quite a bit of time with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones).

Elsewhere, Christian Longo (Franco) has been using Mike Finkel's name, and he certainly hasn't been up to any good.  Accused of having murdered his wife and their three children, Christian is captured and detained by the police while posing as Mike with some German woman.  When Mike learns of what's transpired, he reaches out to Christian and visits him in prison.  Without a job or a prayer of finding another, he certainly has nothing better to do.  In the visiting room of the prison, a rather interesting relationship begins that's mutually beneficial for the two men.  With his career sputtering, Mike sees an opportunity to tell Christian's story.  Without a friend in the world, Christian could use a guy like Mike.  Either way, the public frowns on these two new pen pals.

There's an intriguing story to be told about Mike Finkel and Christian Longo here in True Story.  In the hands of director Rupert Goold, however, it's just not told.  The narrative itself is both muddled and predictable, which really keeps it from captivating its audience.  When the truth is elusive to only the main character, the film is doomed to be less engaging.  This is especially true in the film's cluttered second act.  To make matters worse, True Story lacks the thrills and suspense needed to justify its runtime as a result of Goold's straightforward storytelling approach.  With a psychopath killer at the center of this mystery thriller, I expect a bit more drama.  It's safe to say that it is altogether lacking.  All in all, True Story leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite having three Oscar nominees arguably hovering near the peaks of their careers, the cast just doesn't get the job done.  For his part as journalist Mike Finkel, Jonah Hill gives a decent performance, but it lacks a certain energy and passion.  This guy's way of life is on the line, and what little credibility he has left remains in the hands of Christian.  There should be a bit more conviction and emotion laced into Hill's performance as Mike consequently, and it's just not there.  The same can be said for Hill's on-screen wife Felicity Jones.  For her part as Jill, she delivers what I would characterize as an odd performance that misses quite a few beats.  Because her character is completely unnecessary, it’s even more noticeable.

Then, we have James Franco as child serial killer Christian Longo.  There's no doubt that Franco has the meatiest role of the trio of thirtysomething thespians.  With this in mind, his failure to deliver a compelling character to audiences is far more impactful.  As the film's antagonist, Franco should be the one helping Goold to plant the seeds of doubt that make the truth elusive for both Mike and moviegoers alike.  His performance is slick, but just not slippery enough to accomplish this.  Franco's underwhelming turn as Christian is a central shortcoming of the film.

It's safe to say that I have no love lost for True Story.  It just doesn't the get the job done.  Perhaps James Franco and Jonah Hill should heed my advice and take a break from the big screen.  Come back in a year or two with a quality film.  As it stands, True Story is not one.  This mystery drama gets a 0.09% rating.  Have an Old Fashioned or two with this one.