I have a theory that you can’t throw a rock in Hollywood without hitting James Franco. For some reason, it feels like he’s in everything. While Franco is best known for his comedic roles, he’s been known to pull out a bit of drama as well. True Story does show some true talent from him, but not so much from fellow comedic actor Jonah Hill.
The movie is a bit of “In Cold Blood.” We have disgraced journalist Michael Finkel (Johan Hill), a man who has recently been fired from his prestigious job at The New York Times for fabricating details of a major story. In order to get his credibility back, he scores himself an interview with Christian Longo (James Franco) a high profile murderer in jail for killing his wife and children.
First off, True Story is based on a true story. The horrific killings occurred in 2001, when Longo’s wife and children were found murdered and floating in suitcases thrown into the Lint Slough, a waterway in Oregon. Longo fled to avoid prosecution and was eventually located and arrested in Mexico. He was sentenced to death in 2003.
The story occurs while Longo is on trial, and before he took responsibility for the killings. The manipulation between the two characters does bring back In Cold Blood, the major difference in this case being that Longo is a far more intelligent adversary.
What I particularly like about this story is how Finkel is portrayed. The movie was adapted from Michael Finkel’s own book on the subject. In that book, Finkel was particularly brave, portraying himself as arrogant, gullible and completely unethical. That’s not something journalists are really known for.
It doesn’t shine through into the film. While Hill has proven his chops as a dramatic actor, the feel of the character from Finkel’s book isn’t there. He comes across as flat, if a bit prickly and intolerable.
Playing Longo was a breakthrough role for Franco when it comes to dramatic acting. Anyone who knows the story knows that Longo got the press talking to him through manipulation and flattery. This is a skill he used to great effect on Finkel and in that portrayal, Franco becomes a man you love to hate. As the movie goes on, Franco keeps getting shiftier and slowly draws out the suspense. I’m impressed with any movie that can do this when everyone knows what happened anyway.
The shame here is Hill came across as blank and vapid, not playing a believable foil to Longo’s manipulation. The other side characters also seem a bit one note and many times, completely unnecessary.
True Story could have been a very good story. It seemed tailor made for James Franco. Everyone else can’t seem to pull it off. Just because we all know the ending doesn’t mean the story can’t have a great amount of suspense. It seems like Franco was the only one who understood that.
Due to that, this became a bit of a disappointing effort. Two funny men tried to do drama, but only one really pulled it off.
WE GAVE IT: 3.5 Stars – Watch the Official Trailer and Official Movie Poster below!
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