By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Movie audiences know that actors James Franco and Jonah Hill both like to perform in comedic and dramatic roles. For their second film together (the first being This Is The End), Franco and Hill perform opposite one another in a compelling dramatic feature, based on actual events. These two gifted actors share a palpable chemistry in this movie and once again prove how dynamic their respective ranges are. Rupert Goold, in his first theatrical feature, adroitly directs this adaptation of this startling and haunting True Story.
In 2002, Oregon law enforcement take into custody one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, a man by the name of Christian Longo. Charged with the murders of his wife and children, Longo flees from the country and soon gets discovered in Mexico using the alias Michael Finkel, the name of a journalist recently dismissed by the New York Times. Upon discovering this, the real Finkel wants answers and decides to visit Longo who remains in jail during his trial. Finkel finds Longo fascinating and begins to question whether or not the charming suspect is guilty or innocent. In need of something major to revitalize his stalled career, Finkel decides to tell Longo’s side of the story.
Written by David Kajganich and Rupert Goold, based on the memoir by Michael Finkel, True Story is a fascinating study of human behavior, perception and deception. Goold takes a subtle and understated directorial style. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Out of the Furnace, The Grey) and Goold’s composition of the shots really adds to the isolation of the characters and to the chilling feeling that several of the film’s moments will leave with its audiences. The screenplay and the performances of the cast do exceptional work in developing and fleshing out the characters.
As the conflicted journalist Michael Finkel, Jonah Hill delivers a luminous performance. Actress Felicity Jones also stars as Finkel’s girlfriend Jill. She too performs superbly. I have been a fan of Jones since her lovely breakthrough performance in Like Crazy. The one actor who really floored me here is James Franco. As a murder suspect whose credibility is highly questionable, Franco juggles Longo’s charming and disarming personality with a certain creepy factor that had me seriously conflicted as I watched the movie. I went into this movie, not really knowing all of the facts behind this story, and this really added to the tension and suspense.
Perhaps, that may be the one flaw I can find with this movie. It is obviously tailor made for audiences who know nothing or little about the true story. Anyone familiar with what happened probably will not be as engrossed as I was. I feel that Goold and Kajganich probably should have worked on offering something for those who already have an idea where the story is going. Nevertheless, the director, his co-writer, cast and crew have made an otherwise enthralling movie that left me shocked and awed. Fans of true crime adaptations should most definitely watch this movie. For those knowledgeable of the real events that inspired this film, the performances by Franco and Hill make it worth a watch.