Review: True Story

Michael Finkel fell on hard times 14 years ago. He lost his job at the New York Times after he was exposed to have falsified details on an article based on the African slave trade and was subsequently blacklisted from the world of journalism. Months later, he receives a call about a man named Christian Longo who was using Finkel’s name while in Mexico; Longo is the prime suspect in the murders of his wife and three children.

This turn of events kickstarts a fascinating relationship between two men that becomes the source material for Finkel’s memoir titled True Story, which has been adapted into a feature length motion picture directed by Rupert Goold, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Kajganich.

Photo by Fox Searchlight

Academy Award nominees Jonah Hill and James Franco, portray Finkel and Longo, with recent Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones, portraying Jill, Michael’s wife. True Story explores the relationship between the two men as Longo awaits trial and Finkel becomes Longo’s sole correspondent while he is in jail. Longo wants Finkel to tell his side of the story and Finkel sees these reports with Longo as a way to salvage his career.

True Story is a film that takes two men and blurs the line that determines what is true and what is fictitious. Both men are kindred spirits who have destroyed something that is precious to them both and see in each other a way to regain something that is lost, perhaps nonredeemable and the film is a very fascinating character-driven film, shaped around resolute performances from the three principle actors.

Image by Fox Searchlight

The great thing to appreciate from True Story is that the performances from Franco, Hill and Jones are not the only quality features about the film.

Rupert Goold brought a great degree of expertise to this film, for artistically, the film is quite sound on a technical perspective.

The cinematography of Masanobu Takayanagi enhanced the overall visual appeal for this feature, whereas the editing of Nicholas De Toth and Christopher Tellefsen, refined said appeal thus allowing the narrative to flow continuously.

The use of the tracking shot, the slow zoom, the close-up I found was properly done, but not exactly excessive.

Visually, I found the most beautiful sequence in the film to be between Franco and Jones, where they have their first phone conversation, where the camera follows Jones’ character around the Finkel lodge in Wisconsin and the cuts between her and Franco on the phone all heightened the tension and awkwardness of the conversation. It just made for a very strong film moment.

If anything, this film reinforces the fact that James Franco, Jonah Hill and Felicity Jones are worthy of being called Oscar caliber actors.

I don’t think I’ve seen Franco ever surpass himself since his exemplary performance in 127 Hours, but he was in top form as the creepy, intelligent, broken and manipulative murderer that is Chris Longo. Franco had a film moment of his own when his character was on the stand describing what happened that night he killed his family and he just shined, in my eyes; he simply owned that moment and it was beautiful to behold.

Sometimes I forget that Jonah Hill is a two-time Oscar nominee, but he certainly lives up to that acclaim. Watching him portray Mike Finkel and seeing him interact with Franco’s Longo is like popcorn for the eyes; watching these two men, two liars both fallen from grace use each other to try and restore themselves is one of the most fascinating spectacles I’ve seen thus far this year.

I won’t go so far as say that I loved watching Felicity Jones in this film, the way I loved watching her in The Theory of Everything, but she is a strong actress worthy of my respect. I saw glimpses of the fragility of her performance from The Theory of Everything, in her performance as Jill Finkel. That fragility in her makes her so sympathetic in my eyes and in that sympathy I find strength.

True Story is a good movie, but sadly it is not a great movie. It gets to the truth of the relationship between these two men, Longo and Finkel, but it feels as if it is missing something that keeps it out of the echelon of greatness.

There are a multitude of moments in this film, but there is a lack of that one great moment, that just floors everything. This is tragic, because it has the hallmarks of a great film but its absence of, let’s call it an “x-factor,” softens the film as a whole. There is no knockout punch to this film.

I walked away greatly appreciative of True Story because it was miles ahead of everything I’ve seen thus far. It won’t blow audiences away, but the entertainment value is solid enough to warrant a showing.

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