‘True Story’ is a film based on the relationship between Christian Longo (James Franco), a man convicted of murdering his wife and three children and journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill). Both James Franco and Jonah Hill give fine performances in the film and prove that they can work just as well together in dramatic films as they do in Seth Rogen comedies. From the beginning, it is fairly obvious that James Franco’s character is guilty of the murders. It’s not the surprise twist of Edward Norton’s character in ‘Primal Fear.’ That doesn’t seem to be the goal of the film makers. “True Story” is ultimately a cautionary tale about manipulation. Franco’s performance makes it obvious to the audience that Longo has ulterior motives, but not so obvious to Jonah Hill’s Finkel. It’s not a bad way to tell a story, but it puts some distance between the audience and the characters rather than drawing them into the experience.
There are some flaws in the film that prevent it from standing out in the competitive industry. Felicity Jones, for example, is seriously underused in the film. She does a terrific job with what little she is given, but the film merely presents her with potential rather than making the most of that potential. Even the promotional trailer, Felicity Jones is underused. While James Franco and Jonah Hill are listed as Academy Award nominees, the promotions neglect to mention that Felicity Jones is an Academy Award nominee as well. It’s pretty frustrating actually. If a lesser actress had played the role, the audience would wonder why the character was even in the film. There are also revelations in the film that seem to be designed to make the audience gasp or be wowed by the twist. The pacing of the film makes the audience see the revelations a mile away; or even worse, lose interest all together.
The performances of the actors and the successful manner in which the film presents the theme of manipulation, make it worth seeing. Watching Longo flatter Finkel into helping him, watching him slowly make Finkel dependent on him, and watching Longo create doubt in Finkel is a good exercise for the brain. It can help make people more alert to others trying to manipulate them. It’ll probably make a good film to show in psychology classes in the future, even if some of the artistic aspects of the story telling are lacking. “True Story” is not an entertaining film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is intriguing enough. The film will be playing at the Neon until April 30.