Full disclosure: I never followed the real-life events that inspired this movie, so I am a perfect audience for it. If you know the saga of disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel and his involvement with a man who was accused of murdering his wife and children, you may have an entirely different reaction…especially if you’ve seen Finkel interviewed on TV and heard the recordings he made of Christian Longo while he was in prison.
What elevates this film above the level of a television docudrama is the performances by Jonah Hill and James Franco. Hill has established his credibility as a dramatic actor by now, but Franco takes on a challenge I’ve never seen him attempt before. He remains enigmatic, aloof, and unreadable as a man who may have committed a crime so heinous it almost defies belief. Yet he manages to engage reporter Hill, whose job it is to separate fact from fiction.
British stage director Rupert Goold makes his film debut with this unusual drama, a mood piece he also wrote with David Kajganich from Michael Finkel’s tell-all book. The film (like the book, I presume) obliges us to consider the ethics of a reporter who, after being fired from the Times for fudging the truth in a major story, sees a chance at redemption—and riches—in landing a true-crime scoop.
The story plays out, in large part, on the two actors’ faces, and their committed performances make True Story watchable. (Felicity Jones, who plays Hill’s wife, has one key scene that validates her presence in the picture.)
Yet in spite of this True Story has not resonated with me. I appreciate the quality of performances, and I’d especially encourage Franco fans to check out his work. Overall, I’d call this a good effort with modest results.