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TRUE STORY a TV Movie With a Twist – Movie Review

In December 2001, Christian Longo murdered his wife and three children, then went on the run, using “Michael Finkel” as an alias. Finkel wasn’t a fictional alias along the lines of Deep Throat or O’Henry. No, Michael Finkel was a real person, a disgraced New York Times reporter. True Story begs the question, “Why?” then promptly answers it 30 minutes into the film.

Why would an alleged murderer take on the name of a journalist? It’s a fascinating question, and one Finkel (Jonah Hill) intends to find out. He does, very early in his meetings with Longo. Seems the accused murderer, a fan of Finkel’s writing, views the two of them as two sides of the same coin, with very little separating them. With the only unique twist on the true crime tale out of the way, True Story happily settles into nothing more than an movie-of-the-week type plot that almost squanders all of the Academy Award nominated talent featured.

Hill, who can play funny (21 Jump Street), serious (Moneyball) and funny/serious (The Wolf of Wall Street) feels like he’s struggling to figure out what angle to take Finkel in, playing him as more a blank slate than anything else. There are moments scattered around that show off his skills, but mostly he’s engaged in very monotone conversations with tame James Franco.

Does anybody like watching tame James Franco? The actor makes Longo out to be the engimatic sociopath he really is, but mostly Franco sits in a seat, mouth fidgeting. I’m all for trying something new, but after Pineapple Express127 Hours and Spring Breakers, watching Franco act “normal” just doesn’t really do it anymore.

Fresh off a Best Actress nomination for The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones is almost thankless in True Story. As Finkel’s girlfriend, she spends most of the film walking around her cabin, staring at Finkel’s notes, or looking at books that are hundreds of years old while working. Jones actually turns out to be the lone bright spot when she reveals herself to be True Story‘s moral center.

Making his feature film debut, director Rupert Goold, a seasoned theater director but whose only other experience is a couple of TV episodes, frames True Story with so many extreme close-ups, it feels more like a Lifetime film-of-the-week than something meant for the big screen. Almost half of True Story features Hill and Franco sitting in a visiting room, speaking to each other, and instead of giving those scenes some kind of visual flair, they feel suffocating, like the audience is two giant talking heads go back-and-forth with each other.

The last time Hill and Franco were together on screen, Hill was … erm … violated by a demon. The same happens in True Story, only it’s with a metaphorical demon. In both instances, the outcome wasn’t good. True Story may play better on the small screen, but on the big screen it feels out of its depth.


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The Author

Ryan Hill

Ryan Hill

Ryan Hill used to spend his time writing screenplays into a notebook instead of doing homework. That love of film and all things storytelling led him to spend most of his time writing. He's been a film critic in North Carolina for over five years, and his debut novel, THE BOOK OF BART, is out now. Please buy it. Ryan also feels odd about referring to himself in the third person.