Overview: When out of work reporter Michael Finkel discovers accused serial killer Christian Longo pretended to be him while on the run in Mexico, the two strike up a relationship that could lead to the rise or fall of both. 2015; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures; Rated R; 100 minutes.
Talk the Talk: If you’re looking for a clue cluttered whodunit or a fast paced murder mystery, True Story is not the crime film for you. This movie makes no attempts to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and it doesn’t deceive by tossing in twists and turns. And although it’s not a documentary, it lacks the suspenseful moments delivered by the likes of HBO’s recent hit The Jinx. True Story does exactly what its title indicates: it tells a story. For some it may be a disappointment that director Rupert Goold doesn’t fluff up the film with all the trappings of a more thrilling experience, but he makes the right move here, because no bells and whistles are needed to effectively paint the portrait of how disturbing this story is.
Conversations and correspondence between Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) and Christian Longo (James Franco) dominate the film. They talk. And then they talk some more. But it speaks volumes of these actors’ abilities and the screenplay by David Kajganich that all of this conversing can create such a tense, unsettling viewing experience. Franco depicts Longo with stoic, calculated coldness that permeates a sense of discomfort throughout every scene. Hill balances Franco’s detached persona with an earnestness that dances the fine line between dedication and desperation. The pair manages to draw in our sense of morbid curiosity with a repartee that evolves into a friendship that settles on the brink of mutual obsession, each one’s success and failure depending on that of the other, one attempting to bury his own identity while the other searches to find it.
The Secret Weapon: For the majority of the film’s run time, Felicity Jones’ presence as Jill, Finkel’s wife, seems to amount to little more than background noise and a quiet but strong support system that humanizes Mike Finkel’s character. But as True Story digs its heels in, Felicity Jones emerges as the dominating force when it counts the most. The most haunting scenes in this film are thanks to her; the first, an eerie phone call that watches like a sequence from a horror film as her uneasiness and terror becomes thickly palpable, and the second, a chilling interrogation of Longo as she visits him in prison to provide him with a chilling reminder that he’s little more than a cold blooded killer.
The Only Misfire: True Story, for all of its compelling dialogue and rich characterization, fails to fulfill only one promise it makes early on. When Finkel first begins to visit Longo in prison, they establish the terms or their arrangement, which includes Longo’s exclusive story in exchange for writing tips from Finkel. This quid pro quo set up never really pans out a la Silence of the Lambs the way it is implied, falling to the wayside after the first information swap. Continuing the emphasis on the teacher/student dynamic of the duo’s relationship could have assisted in creating a clearer and more compelling picture of Finkel and Longo’s growing attachment to one another. But this minor misstep does little to take away from the film’s impact on its viewers.