Over the past decade, actors Jonah Hill and James Franco have demonstrated a strong and rather consistent pattern of likable comedic performances. However, the two actors have also shown great ability in the realm of drama as well. They are both talented enough to tackle each genre with range and professionalism and whenever they delve into more serious works, audiences are almost always in for a real treat. Sadly, their new film True Story isn’t such a case. Here we have two solid actors who have attempted to make greatness but due to a dull script and uninspired direction, we have a movie that is completely devoid of any type of spark. This is truly unfortunate given the film’s very talented stars.
Based on bizarre actual events, True Story follows Michael Finkel (Hill), a reporter for The New York Times who has just been fired due to him fabricating some of the facts on an African slave piece. With his professional life in the middle of some turbulence, he soon learns that a convict in Oregon, Christian Longo (Franco), has been using the name “Michael Finkel” as an alias. Longo was arrested in suspicion of murdering his wife and three children. The real Finkel then visits Longo in prison and over the course of the film tries to understand why Longo has used his name and find out if he really committed the crime he’s in prison for.
With a powerful premise and two highly capable actors, it’s frustrating how lackluster True Story is. We basically get 100 minutes of boring dialogue and slight almost nonexistent dramatic tension. Jonah Hill does his best with Finkel’s real life memoir adapted by director/screenwriter Rupert Goold (The Hollow Crown, Great Performances) and fellow screenwriter David Kajganich (The Invasion, Blood Creek). Goold’s direction is also limited to close-ups of the film’s stars and the back and forth cuts from Hill to Franco and so on are like a lame ping pong match, attempting to draw out an emotional response but instead it’s a back and forth with no payoff and provides for a rather perfect film to nap to. Charming British actress Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) also appears in a supporting role as Finkel’s wife but her contribution is overshadowed by the film’s poor quality.
Usually, films based on true stories are gripping and engaging. Because they are based in reality, audiences have a chance to get sucked in and at times, relate to the material. True Story could have been this type of movie but it gets bogged down in trying to create a Silence of the Lambs-type of scenario. The charming prisoner behind bars communicating and growing a “bond” with the person on the other side, on a quest for answers and ultimately, the truth.
True Story is an okay film buried under tons of unnecessary dialogue and way too familiar territory. Hill and Franco are the only saving graces here and even they can’t save this film from utter mediocrity. The two actors have worked together in the past many a time and with far more successful results. Hopefully they will find a screenplay in the future that isn’t a complete yawnfest and go back to making quality films, both comedic and dramatic.