True Story online movie review - "True Story" is a story that didn't need to be told.
In the movie business, casting is critical, both for the creative process and for a movie's potential profitability. A good cast can make a good script into a great movie or even turn a mediocre script into a good movie.
A bad cast can ruin even great scripts and thwart the best directors. Of course, a cast starts with individuals ? and certain questions that must be answered. Do the cast members fit their roles physically (at least coming close to what playing that character demands) and do each of the actors and actresses have the chops and, if the film is a drama, the gravitas to pull off the role? And what about perceptions? Audience members have opinions and they're the ones who vote with their dollars and determine whether a movie is ultimately a success or a failure. Simply put, will audiences in general, accept a given actor or actress in a specific role? Now, the best actors and actresses can overcome some of these potential casting problems, but very few, if any, can overcome them all. Unfortunately, the questions and issues I just raised could be seen as a problem for "True Story" (R, 1:40).
This film is the? (hmmm? trying not to mention the film's title too repetitively or make a bad pun here?) it's the? Factual Narrative behind the jailhouse conversations between journalist Michael Finkel and accused killer Christian Longo. Finkel (Jonah Hill) had just lost his job as a highly-regarded New York Times reporter for making some factual errors with a major story. Longo (James Franco) went to Mexico after allegedly murdering his wife and three small children. In Mexico, Longo was giving his name as "Mike Finkel", including at the time of his arrest. When Finkel hears about this, he travels from his cabin in Montana to a county jail in Oregon to ask Longo "Why"? Why Longo appropriated Finkel's name and, somewhat more importantly, why Longo murdered his own family. Does Longo genuinely just admire Finkel, or is he taking advantage of Finkel's desperation for a new writing gig and current reputation for playing fast and loose with the facts to use Finkel for his own ends. And DID Longo murder his family? Much of the film portrays the encounters between Finkel and Longo. Finkel uses various techniques to get to know Longo and draw out his story. Longo talks to Finkel regularly, but he also writes long letters to Finkel ? with pictures. Finkel writes back, and continues to visit Longo in jail ? the only reporter to whom Longo will talk. Finkel soon decides that Longo's story is more than a newspaper article that he can try selling to the highest bidder, but rather a book that he can try selling to the highest bidder. Longo agrees to tell Finkel his story as long as it isn't published until after the trial and if Finkel will give Longo writing lessons. An exchange of favors and information begins ? and develops into a kind of friendship. Finkel, seeing the potential for a big payday wants to get Longo's entire story and, chastened by his recent fall from grace, knows he needs to get the story right ? a goal that becomes more complicated than it sounds. Finkel's girlfriend, Jill (Felicity Jones) supports him but is concerned that he might be giving Longo too much leeway and too big of a benefit of the doubt in the pursuit of truth.
"True Story" suffers from poor casting and a meaningless story. Hill is a good actor (with two Oscar nominations) and Franco is? an adequate actor (with one nom). Both are known more for comedies. Knowing their resumes and that they're friends in real life, seeing them sitting across from each other in totally serious roles was distracting. I just kept imagining them laughing between takes or about to break into comic banter in the midst of the drama. But maybe that's just me. More importantly, were they each up to the dramatic challenge? Again, in my opinion, no. Franco's acting wasn't sinister enough to make me think he was dangerous, intense enough to make me believe he was innocent or deep enough to convince me he was serious. Hill? I just couldn't buy as a seasoned journalist. Same with the Oregon reporter played by Ethan Suplee, who is also known mainly for his comedic acting. Jones was good, as was Robert John Burke playing a cop, but that wasn't enough.
My other big problem with "True Story" is that it just didn't have much of a point. It's a little bit "Primal Fear" and a little bit "The Usual Suspects", but the script wasn't as smart, the characters as engaging or the ending nearly as satisfying as those earlier films. This movie literally settles for a wink and a nod when it could have said something interesting about our legal system or at least given us a few thrills on the way to its lackluster conclusion. This movie isn't terrible, but it's not very good either. I'm giving this one a "C". I'm not recommending it (like something in the "B" or "A" range), but I don't think it deserves trashing ("D" or "F"). I hope you'll decide for yourself. If you do see the movie, come back and tell me what you thought. I really welcome any and all comments ? good, bad or indifferent. True Story!