Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
After losing his job at the New York Times, former celebrated journalist Michael Finkel (Hill) discovers that before being convicted of murdering his family, Christian Longo (Franco) used Finkel’s identity. Intrigued as to why, Finkel attempts to arrange to meet with Longo, who is now awaiting trial. As the only Journalist Longo will allow to interview him, Finkel sees this as his chance resurrect his career, but as the two get to know each other, events take a much darker turn.
Maybe it is because its title hardly captures the imagination that True Story found very little success at the box office, and it has to be said that Rupert Goold’s film is way too happy to stick to middle of the road convention to make it any more riveting or memorable than its dull title suggests. Though it most certainly fails to utilise the potential its source material does offer, True Story is very much still a solid and extremely watchable psychological thriller, but one that will feel more at home on the small screen than the cinema.
The story at the heart of the narrative, which is indeed based on a true story, does certainly encapsulate some very interesting themes and ideas of psychological manipulation and how one’s ambition can ultimately make you blind to what may otherwise seem obvious. It is very much the case that these ideas and themes contained within the narrative contain enough thought provoking power in their own right that they almost disguise Goold’s competent and safe filmmaking, giving the film far more credit than perhaps its makers deserve at times. A film being subtle is a great thing (Foxcatcher is a superb example of this), but there is a difference between a subtle and effective examination of themes and great themes almost examining themselves due to their actual examination being so subtle that is almost doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, due to its seeming lack of creative ambition, True Story is very much the latter of these two
Arguably, if a film provides thought provoking ideas, it doesn’t matter how these are presented, but the fact it does is the most important thing. Well, as the narrative develops in True Story everything feels way too purposeful for its own good, but the film is never anything less than watchable. True Story is certainly an exercise in the utmost filmmaking competence, but to solely be competent only produces an average film, and that is basically what we have.
The two leading performances certainly help to elevate the material; both James Franco and Jonah Hill have been infuriatingly annoying and abrasive in some of their recent ‘comedic’ roles, but here both convince in what are far more serious roles. James Franco convinces as the accused murderer, and his suitably intense yet charismatic performance certainly adds to the intrigue we cannot help but have when watching his character. Jonah Hill too encapsulates the characteristics of his character that ultimately are what drive the narrative very convincingly. Though she features in the marketing heavily, except for one scene, the very talented Felicity Jones plays a character at the total mercy of the narrative in that her character often only turns up to be someone for Hill’s character to explain for the benefit of the viewer what is going on in his head or to remind us about the bad points of Franco’s character. Despite the frequent chinwag between Hill and Jones, this is for the benefit of the main narrative to explain certain things to the audience in the same way a voice over would, but it produces no substantial character development for either of them or more crucially an exploration of their own relationship.
As True Story reaches its conclusion it never truly grips the audience by the throat that it perhaps should, but it engages, and the climactic court scenes do deliver both genuine intrigue and tension. If this film had even dared to take on its own themes and ideas, then it could have been a truly thought provoking examination of the human condition, but though it happily sits firmly in the middle of a very generic road, it is still very watchable (though admittedly at home, as opposed to at the cinema).
Despite potentially having some very interesting themes at its narrative centre, a tendency to stay diligently in the middle of the road stops True Story from being a great psychological thriller. However the two solid leading performances, the interest the themes still manage to generate and it being made with utmost (albeit unspectacular) competence, make it a decent and engaging watch.