When it comes to my journalism classes—well, most classes in general—if something isn’t the whole truth, don’t write it. Michael Finkel, a writer from the New York Times, finds himself in a hole that keeps getting deeper when he falsifies a story, gets fired, but finds himself in correspondence with a man who had been arrested under his name for killing his entire family. The result is an interesting character study titled True Story that is, well, a true story that focuses on two very different people and the consequences for lying.
Jonah Hill and James Franco headline this quasi-detective/journalist story with solid performances. Hill, in another non-comedic role, is the disgraced writer who struggles to make it back into the game after being canned by the Times. He is persistent, gullible, and perhaps easily attached. The scenes between him and Franco are electric, always feeling like someone is holding back. Franco, though, is the real powerhouse. We do not ever know if he actually committed the crimes, and he appears just like a master manipulator. At times we wonder—like Hill—if he is guilty or just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Felicity Jones, in a small but meaty role, plays Hill’s wife who watches from the sidelines as her husband gets caught up in the mind of someone who might be a psychopath.
The problem with the film is it advertised, as well as attempts to feel like, a typical game of cat-and-mouse. This would be true, however, if Franco’s character wasn’t in a cell for the majority of the movie, or if he had any ability to be of any danger. The best he can use is his mind to slowly weed himself into Hill who wants to give him the benefit of the doubt despite the overwhelming evidence against him. There are some creepy moments, and it being a true story adds to it, but these moments have been done before in much more intense ways (like in The Gift) that it ultimately feels a little sedated in its efforts to be thrilling.
It’s conclusion never fulfills its promise of being thrilling either—though I was never actually aware of the court case and murders featured—but I was definitely expecting something more dramatic. Despite its attempts to feel edgy and disturbing, it ultimately feels like any other crime story that can be solved within the first few minutes. Thankfully, though, it still feels compelling enough as we get a glance inside the heads of drastically different people who end up maybe being more similar than they actually want to believe. True Story does not add anything new to crime-thrillers, or psychological ones if you look at it that way, but it does make for an entertaining and intriguing story that may end up surprising you with its stranger-than-fiction twists.