As I was grabbing my popcorn and hot dog at the concession stand before the film started, I started wondering what “True Story” would be about. I hadn’t heard any press or reviews about the film (apparently, that’s what I’m here for), so I was kind of filled with a good sense of anticipation. James Franco and Jonah Hill? Why, a buddy comedy! Of course!
And boy, was I further from the truth.
“True Story” is based on the (what a surprise) true story of the relationship between Christian Longo (played by Franco), a man on trial for killing his family, and Michael Finkel (played by Hill), a disgraced New York Times writer whose identity Longo assumes when he is captured. The film starts off with Finkel’s fall from grace, as he is caught “misinterpreting” one of his pieces for the New York Times. As viewers see his struggle to get his reputation back on track, Longo is apprehended in Mexico and tells officials that his name is Mike Finkel. With only a brief explanation about why he chose to give an alias, the film steamrolls into the pair’s relationship: Finkel wants to write a book about Longo as long as he tells the truth, so that he may clear his sullied name. And in turn, Finkel will teach Longo how to write. The film weaves an eerie narrative of innocence and guilt, as movie-goers are left wondering if Longo actually committed the heinous murders he is on trial for.
Director Rupert Goold perfectly casts Franco and Hill, as their chemistry resonates on-screen. I actually almost want to take back my comment from before mistaking it for a buddy movie. The relationship that fosters between the two is creepily sincere, as you hope that each of them are true to each other. Franco is calm and collected as Longo, quite a bit of a range for his more outspoken and comedic roles, and Hill brilliantly plays a man trying to get his life on track and, at the same time, figure out if he’s being manipulated or not. Felicity Jones rounds out the cast, playing Finkel’s supposed girlfriend (I say “supposed” since the relationship between the two is never fully explained) whose American accent is slightly misplaced.
As someone who gets distracted easily by little things, especially light, I appreciated the way cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi used strong tones and hues to convey the mood of the film. Strong white lights mixed in with subtle oranges and blues truly helped with the whole macabre feeling. Another interesting thing that I noticed is that camera shots were almost always off-center. Interesting shots of someone’s hand on a payphone as he spoke, or a view of someone’s cheek really enhanced the feeling of confusion and manipulation the audience is meant to feel. Or, that could just be my ADD working overtime as I anxiously awaited Longo’s verdict.
If you want to see range from James Franco and Jonah Hill, you should definitely watch this film. I do have to warn you that some of the courtroom scenes can be a little hard to stomach. But other than that, this is another mind-thriller that will be better enjoyed by reading Finkel’s memoir. That is, of course, unless you love the taste of buttered popcorn and a warmed-up hot dog!