By Laurie Coker
Actor Jonah Hill flexes his acting muscles in his latest film True Story, but co-star James Franco never quite measures up to the character he means to emulate. Base on a the true story of New York Times writer, Michael Finkle’s fall from fame, director Rupert Goold’s film left me only semi-satisfied. Unfamiliar with the source material, while I watched, I tended to compare it to Capote’s In Cold Blood, and it that vein it is tepid at best, although Hill is engaging and watchable.
Hill plays Finkel, a former contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, who invented a composite character for a cover story about child slavery in Africa in late 2001. After being let go from the paper, he discovers a once in a lifetime story about a killer, named Chris Longo, who flees to Mexico, and while is using Finkel’s identity when he is captured by police and sent back to stand trial. Finkle, who is basically blackballed from even small publications, leaps at the chance to meet the man accused of murdering his own wife and three small children. He makes an exclusive deal to write Longo’s story and buys in to the killer’s lies.
The relationship between Finkle and Longo drives the film and the combination works – in fairness, perhaps more because of Hill’s impressive morphing, Franco does manage some sense of creepy and remorseless. He just never embodied the heartless monster that Longo is. Ironically, since I sing Hill’s praises, one of the most powerful scenes in the film comes when Felicity Jones, as Finkle’s wife, Jill, confronts Longo. She vehemently demonstrates her disgust and demands that the soulless man know she will not allow him to control her husband. Jones emulates righteousness and anger. Longo deceives Finkle, but Finkle seems to allow it out of a desperate desire to salvage his sullied reputation, becoming obsessive and clay in Longo’s hands.
I’ve read In Cold Blood and watched the film, so for me, True Story doesn’t measure up. Goold and co-writer, Finkle, have a decent enough storyline, but it doesn’t seem to translate with much intensity to the screen – average, just average in all aspects except acting. The crimes in Capote and Finkle’s tales are equally heinous, but the tellings are wholly different. One mesmerizes the other mostly meanders. I am placing a C in my grade book for True Story.