Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Bottom Line: An unusual movie with unusual stars. Well acted. Well paced. Some parts don’t fit well into the narrative.
I knew next to nothing about this movie going in. Only that it starred Jonah Hill and James Franco. Despite that starring duo, this is not a comedy. So not a comedy. James Franco has long since established himself as a versatile actor so seeing a great dramatic performance by him is not surprising. Prior to “True Story”, Jonah Hill has been mostly a comedy guy. Even in “Moneyball”, which is considered more of a serious movie, he was still the comic relief. With his performance in this movie, Jonah Hill will likely open up many doors to more serious roles.
Shockingly enough, “True Story” is based on a true story. And it’s one of those truth is stranger than fiction stories. Reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) accidentally discovers a story about a man named Christian Longo (James Franco) who is accused of killing his family and then assuming Finkel’s identity while on the run. Finkel and Longo then strike up a parasitic relationship of sorts. Much of the movie’s time focuses on that relationship.
This is a movie with a lot of subtleness in it so it requires your full attention. As this is mostly a duel of words between Finkel and Longo, phrases and facial expressions become important. There are some great moments of creeping realizations and mock emotions showing across the faces of both Finkel and Longo throughout. Can Finkel trust Longo? Can Longo trust Finkel? They both have much to gain and little to lose from their relationship so we look to their faces for subtle clues that may lead to the truth.
My only real problem with the movie is the unusual amount of time spent on Finkel’s girlfriend, Jill Barker (Felicity Jones). She is used to great effect as a sort of tension builder and she also has a pretty effective confrontation scene near the end of the film even if it doesn’t quite make sense. She just seems to not belong to the movie, though. She’s kind of outside of the story looking in. It works, but even after the film was over I was left wondering why she was there.
The creepiness factor of James Franco alone makes this movie worth seeing. Add the good performance by Jonah Hill and the strange but true plot line and you have a movie worth seeing. It’s definitely not a light watching movie, though, so be prepared to pay attention and watch out for some creepy pictures of dead children.