Thursday, April 16, 2015
Review: TRUE STORY
Is there a more telling sign of a mediocre movie than a weak main character? Not just a weak main character, a meek main character. A character so weak & meek that the character’s significant other has the big emotional scene, even if it is poorly written & makes little sense. That movie is TRUE STORY.
I do not own the above image. Copyright Plan B Productions & Fox Searchlight Pictures. All Right Reserved.
Michael Finkel (Hill) just got fired from The New York Times for bending the truth on a cover story. He heads home to Montana where he lives with his girlfriend Jill (Jones), hoping to revive his career. Eventually, a fellow journalist alerts him to suspected murderer Christian Longo (Franco), who hid in Mexico under his name. After one face-to-face meeting, Finkel thinks he has his ticket back to relevancy.
TRUE STORY is about as bland as its title. The movie plays like a cheap version of CAPOTE. You have the interactions between Finkel & Longo, where Franco outshines not only Hill but also the dialogue between them. You get the sense Franco has Longo down to a tee: somewhat intelligent, manipulative with a sliver of implication that there is something hidden underneath. It is just a shame that we get nowhere down that road.
The deep psychological elements of the two leads are never explored in any meaningful way. For instance, in the letter Longo sends Finkel, demonic drawings fill the opposite sides of many of the pages. But the deepest into them we get is a single scene with Michael & Jill. Even then, all Michael says is how odd it is that these drawings are similar to ones he saw in Africa. Never is there a scene where Michael & Christian talk about it. I understand that Finkel isn’t a psychiatrist but why even have that element in the movie if you are only going to wade into the kiddie pool instead of jumping off the diving board.
And that’s not the only element of the movie like that. For a long while, I thought Hill was miscast. Eventually, I woke up to the fact that Michael Finkel the movie lead character is plain old poorly written. (spoiler alert?) There are scenes where he interacts with the lead prosecutor on the case. For a while, he protects Longo like he is his client or patient instead of the criminal he is. But once, Longo reveals he has been playing with Michael all along, Finkel runs to the prosecutor like an informant, hoping to stay relevant and save his work. It is one thing for a character to assert himself in turning on someone close to him but Finkel is written more in a groveling tone than a cooperative one. I half-expected Hill to be on his hands & knees, begging for forgiveness. (end spoiler alert)
The best thing I can say about TRUE STORY is it kept my attention and the attention of the senior citizens in the audience. This first feature by director/co-writer Rupert Goold trudges along like a made-for-TV crime movie that would have been on CBS on a random Saturday night in the summer of 1987. Franco is serviceable but the rest does not live up to any major cinematic level. Felicity Jones is given one scene to do anything of any consequence but the scene is absurd and adds nothing but further irritation. Irritation that the movie half-assed a story that could have been a little intriguing. We learn nothing of consequence about these characters, these murders or ourselves as a society. There is no there there.