Cole Clay //Film Critic
True crime stories have an unwavering manner of battling plot versus character development. A good true crime film finds a balance of the two and meshes the elements together. Take Bennett Miller for example, his three directorial efforts (CAPOTE, MONEYBALL, and FOXCATCHER) accomplish these tasks by showing the minutia of the characters and their reactions during harrowing situations.
Then there’s British stage director Rupert Goold’s TRUE STORY, a film with methodical pacing and two leading men (Jonah Hill and James Franco) who have a built-in chemistry that has been turned inside out. The similarities between these two filmmakers are apparent and the indiscernible style become near mirror images of one another.
If you are already aware of the real-life events of disgraced New York Times journalist Mike Finkel and his encounters with Christian Longo, a man accused of murdering his wife and children you probably already have a built in appreciation for the work. Knowing this tale won’t ruin the experience due to the nuance performances, but going into this depiction with a clear mind is the best method of execution (wink). There is a heinous stench that floats in and out of their recorded encounters. Each man is trying to get a leg up with their respected interests when all ethics are tossed aside.
Finkel isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, but having no investment in the outcome provides a detached POV that allows the audience to grapple with the morality at hand. Performance artist and actor Franco gives the accused an aloof presence that veers more into melancholy than sociopathic. However, his cool to the touch delivery provides zero insight into his psyche that makes it nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. Goold tinkers with that notion and accepts quickly that neither of these men are particularly reliable narrators.
The quid pro quo arrangement forged by Longo, (wants writing tips) and Finkel (looking for answers) isn’t especially resonating, yet still leaves room for speculation until the final bow. Waiting in the wings for nearly 90 minutes is Finkel’s wife, Jill (Felicity Jones), who acts as a sounding board, but gets one big scene with Franco to warrant her character’s existence.
What helps this film to be ultimately a success is the committed direction from Goold (in spite of the similarities to Miller). Franco is always a curious presence on-screen and fans of his work will enjoy a more subdued performance, even though the payoff has meager results.
TRUE STORY opens today.