When we last saw Jonah Hill and James
Franco on screen together, one was screaming about cumming on magazines and the
other was being raped by Satan in the terrifically unfunny This Is the End,
a movie about the end of the world whose making likely symbolizes the end of
True Story has smaller fish
to fry, and it’s thankfully a drama. If you’ve been following Franco and Hill,
you know they can do the heavier stuff (Hill in Moneyball and The
Wolf of Wall Street, Franco in 127 Hours and Palo Alto). That
these two are pals gives True Story an existential stink, but they, and
the movie, acquit themselves well.
Like its title suggests, True
Story is the true story (or at least it started out that way) of Michael
Finkel (Hill), a disgraced New York Times reporter, and Christian Longo
(Franco). As the movie opens, Finkel is fired for compositing characters in a New
York Times Magazine cover story (a serious journalism no-no). Longo is
hiding out in Mexico from police, using Finkel’s name as cover while running
from authorities after his wife and three children turn up dead in Oregon.
Finkel gets a call from a local
reporter in Oregon (Ethan Suplee—always nice to see him) about the crime and
sets out to meet Longo in person. Longo, at least in Franco’s portrayal, is a
measured, thoughtful man. Franco’s performance—purposely—leaves lots of gaps in
Longo’s story, and Franco is content to leave those gaps unfilled with a blank
face, until later in the movie.
Of course, Finkel sees Longo’s story
as a chance at journalistic redemption, and Longo sees it as an opportunity to
get out the truth (whatever that means to him). Longo says he’ll give Finkel
the exclusive, and Finkel sells the book idea to HarperCollins, on the notion
that Longo will plead not guilty to all of the charges against him. But when
Longo pleads guilty to two of the murders and not guilty to the other two, that
hurts Finkel’s plan, and he begins to see that Longo is, if nothing else,
That’s the crux of the story, and
much of it is set in a stark county jail as Finkel interviews Longo. Hill and
Franco use their best assets—Hill his thoughtfulness, and Franco his charm and
ability to make his face blank while somehow still showing emotion—in their
long scenes together. It’s a good use of time, though it does leave some of the
other characters hanging.
For example, Finkel has a girlfriend,
Jill (Felicity Jones), who has so little to do on screen, you wonder why she
agreed to the part—until her one bravura scene in the jail opposite Franco, and
she nails it. It’s also a pleasant surprise to see the underused Gretchen Mol
show up in a handful of scenes as Finkel’s editor.
There are no big chase scenes or
explosive moments. True Story is a quiet but tense rumination on the
nature of truth. It’s worth it, but it requires patience.
Hill, Franco and Jones
Santa Fe Reporter