Plot: Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) was a rising star in the journalism field, with an ever growing resume of impressive articles and a bright future ahead. But when one of his reports is flagged for fact checking concerns, he concedes that he changed elements of his research, to better fit the narrative. He is let go from the New York Times and his once sterling reputation has been tarnished, to the point that no one seems willing to take a chance on him. Just as things start to look hopeless, a new story falls into his lap that seems too wild to be true. A man named Christian Longo (James Franco) was arrested on murder charges and had been living under the assumed identity of Finkel, whose work he appreciated. As Finkel learns more about Longo’s situation, he sees a chance to regain his reputation and get his career back on track, by writing a book about the experience. But is Longo an innocent man trapped in unbelievable circumstances, or just a cold blooded murderer?
Entertainment Value: As the title suggests, True Story is indeed based on real life events and it is a wild story, though the movie struggles at times to turn it into a feature length narrative. I think the scenario of Longo posing as Finkel to be interesting, but there’s not much the movie can do to draw that out, so the main focus is on Longo and his guilt or innocence. This was a poor choice, as this isn’t one of those true crime stories where the facts are murky or there are all kinds of twists, leaving us an obvious case. Another aspect of this approach is that it makes Finkel like an idiot at times, as he seems to buy into Longo’s nonsense. The film really seems driven to give Longo a brighter light than he deserves and the experience suffers as a result, taking an interesting premise and doing little to capitalize. True Story is still a solid, well performed drama, but it feels like a lot of potential went to waste here.
The leads here are James Franco and Jonah Hill, no strangers to each other, which gives them some good chemistry from the start. Franco’s take on Longo is fine, though the material seems overly concerned with Longo’s image, so they are much softer on him than he deserves. This influences Franco’s performance, which has charm, but not the hard edge you’d expect. Finkel would have been a better central presence, as he was drawn into this bizarre situation after an ethical dilemma of his own, but the movie keeps him at arm’s length. Hill’s performance is good and has some spark, but True Story just doesn’t seem interested in going in depth with Finkel, even making him foolish more often than not. The cast also includes Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Maria Dizzia, and Gretchen Mol.