True Story (Fox Searchlight, R)

true story_75Moreover, the film doesn’t care, the title doesn’t care, and you won’t care.

 

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You guessed it: the film True Story is based on a true story! And, while you might be inclined to convince yourself that you might like it—a mystery starring James Franco as a probable murderer and Jonah Hill as a journalist who gets tangled up in his story, sounds pretty good!—the film is just as obvious and transparent as that title. Moreover, the film doesn’t care, the title doesn’t care, and you won’t care.

Jonah Hill plays Mike Finkel, a once-hotshot New York Times reporter who is undone when an article he wrote is proven to be factually inaccurate. While out of work, Finkel finds out that an accused murderer based out of Oregon, real name Christian Longo (Franco), has been claiming to be Finkel. Finkel, desperate for a story that will get him back in the game, takes this as an invitation to track down Longo and get his side of the story, perhaps especially regarding why he chose to tell people that he was him. Longo is an enigmatic character, though, and it’s hard for Finkel to tell if he’s guilty or innocent, if he’s telling the truth or lying, or just to what extent he should allow himself to get involved in Longo’s story.

This is the type of film where, in an early sequence, a scene is shoehorned in where Finkel is playing Texas Hold ‘Em in the Times office with other journalists, wins a ton of money, and reveals that he’s bluffing. Alert! Alert! Motif crossing, make way! Finkel is a liar, Longo is a liar. You can’t trust anyone, blah blah blah.

Most of the film’s undoing is in the details—apart from being forced and obvious, Finkel and his friends certainly don’t behave like any journalists I’ve ever met, Franco isn’t as menacing as the movie wants him to be, and by the time answers start arising, you’ll be so far past the point of caring that you won’t really even be interested in what they are anymore. And also, the film appears to have been made with permission from the New York Times, but it reflects poorly on the paper, and probably also on journalism on the whole.

Which leads to a question I often find myself wondering about films like this—why did so many talented people agree to come on board? Apart from Franco and Hill, Finkel’s girlfriend Jill is played by recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones, who one would think would have her choice of roles by now. The co-writer/director is a first-timer, Rupert Goold, so it likely wasn’t the prospect of working with him that brought all of this name talent. Regardless, True Story is not only a bad film but also a boring one, so I doubt it will hurt any of these actors’ careers. It won’t be long before people forget that this movie even happened in the first place. | Pete Timmermann

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