Dave White
True Story Review

Dave's Rating:

2.0

In Room-Temperature Blood

Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) was a reporter for the New York Times Magazine who fabricated details of a story about child plantation workers in Africa. As a result, he was fired from his job. Worse, his story damaged the efforts of African child welfare advocates.

Christian Longo (James Franco) murdered his wife and three young children in ways that could not be described as quick or painless. Immediately following this crime, he left the country and was later found in Mexico, impersonating Michael Finkel.

Finkel, hearing of this bizarre coincidence, realized he had a lifeline back to journalism. He visited Longo in jail and the two developed an intense relationship as Longo awaited trial. Longo wanted communication with the outside world, and promised to tell Finkel the truth about everything. Finkel, in turn, had a scoop. He would be writing a book about the experience. Published in 2005, its title is True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.

Longo, a homicidal sociopath, wasn't really planning to tell the truth, of course. But Finkel needed him all the same. Their relationship, one that continues to this day, years after the events depicted, is weirder than fiction. It encompasses bizarre courtroom pleas, narcissism, mirrored life details, and a closeness to real-life horror that would give most people chills.

But film adaptations have to take shortcuts. They condense. And True Story's highlight reel of male bonding moments shortchanges the strangeness of this tale. Franco and Hill's screen history, like that of Franco and Seth Rogen, has involved the comic chainsawing of the rules of male intimacy. True Story had every reason and opportunity to dig deeply into that same territory, minus the laughs, and instead presents a fairly conventional story of a pathological liar and his conversations with another man guilty of a different sort of lie, while both of them sit around wondering how best to use the other.

Franco's performance as Longo is exactly as it should be. He smiles that smile. He's got entire servings of pandering and flattery to feed Hill. He's the well-spoken monster that literate people want to believe could be innocent. Based on his casual charm, how could he have done what he did? Hill's Finkel plays more desperate by comparison, less connected to the gravity of the story, unfortunately saddled with the responibility of being the character who Learns A Lesson.

Not helping this imbalance is director/screenwriter Rupert Goold, who takes the most uncomfortable elements of this unsettling symbiotic situation and addresses them from a distance, taking wild circumstances and rendering them safe, polite, and subdued. The result is a quiet, unproductive visit with two men we don't really want to know in the first place.

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