True Story is a hard movie to categorize. First of all, it is a true crime biopic about serial killer Christian Longo. The story is mostly interesting because Longo took the name of a disgraced former New York Times reporter named Michael Finkel while he was on the run, accused of murdering his wife and three children. However, on the other hand, it stars James Franco and Jonah Hill, with Franco playing the serial killer and Hill playing the disgraced journalist.
This is not a comedy. The first scene of the movie shows a toddler, a baby girl, lying in a suitcase as a teddy bear is dropped onto her. Then we see the suitcase as it is zipped up. Cut to a scene where the suitcase is dropped into a lake. Cut to a scene where a coroner is opening the suitcase and is horrified at what he finds. This is very disturbing and is just the opening of the film.
It shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but the fact of the matter is that these two actors starring in a drama together is somewhat disturbing in and of itself. Franco has proven to be a masterful actor when it comes to dramas, as his performance in 127 Hours was mesmerizing. Furthermore, Jonah Hill has been nominated for, not one, but two Academy Awards and neither of them were for comedic roles. While his character in The Wolf of Wall Street was mostly played for comedic effect, his role in True Story is more in line with his Moneyball character.
Don’t expect any awards nominations to come from this film, though.
Don’t think that is any indication of their performances. James Franco is just the right touch of creepy and disturbing in his role as the serial killer Christian Longo. Hill is a little less impressive, if only because we have seen this shade of awkwardness done better in Moneyball. Both actors are fine in their roles, but the problem with True Crime comes in the script, which is almost a skeleton simply set up to allow Franco and Hill a platform for their acting skills.
This entire movie is just one scene leading to another, with no rhyme or skill outside of telling what happened next. The best parts of the movie are when Christian and Michael are in the interview room of the jail. It is clear that Christian is using Michael to tell his story, and might be manipulating Michael. They keep it a pretty good secret of whether or not Christian is innocent or guilty, but once the trial starts, it is obvious what Christian was doing all along.
Michael’s story is a little more interesting. He was an award winning journalist for the New York Times. When he combines a number of tragic individuals involved in a horrific African slave ring to make for a more compelling story, his lies are discovered and he is fired, disgraced, and unable to even sell a sports story to a magazine. When he gets the news about Christian using his name, he sets out to meet the man and realizes that a true crime book about this killer could resurrect his dead career.
The story of Christian is choppy and poorly done. We see clips here and there, but most of his story is just going from one scene with Michael to the next. The trial happens and it just moves on and jumps ahead from event to event until the final credits roll. There is even a subplot with Michael’s wife, as she is scared to death at the fact that her husband is interviewing a possible serial killer. None of her fears make sense, none of her paranoia is justified and the scene where she goes to the prison to meet Christian without Michael knowing is just stupid.
She is what is known as a plot device just used to add tension that doesn’t work and an actual female character to the plot of the movie. Felicity Jones was fine in the role, but she wasn’t even a real part of the story. At the end of the day, that is the problem with True Crime as a movie. There is no real point to the story. If we had something more concrete to care about and cheer for, it might be compelling. The acting was great, but it was wasted on a rail thin script.