I have a deep, unabashed love for crime dramas. I’ve seen just about about every episode of all the incarnations of Law & Order. Shows about cold case files and analyzing serial killers have always fascinated me. Something about trying to get into the mind of a killer fascinates and scares us. Getting into the mind of a writer who was made a fool of by a killer is less so. True Story takes us through the proceedings of a murder trial, mundanities and all.
Michael Finkel’s name has national recognition. Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is the name of a now disgraced ex-writer for the New York Times, who fabricated some elements of a high profile story. Michael Finkel is also the pseudonym used by wanted fugitive Christian Longo (James Franco). In an attempt to find out why Longo used his name, Finkel visits him, and decides to continue visiting him in order to get his side of the story, hoping to restore his journalistic integrity and salvage his reputation. Longo dangles the carrot of curiosity in front of Finkel, remaining mysterious about his motives and his guilt or innocence. As Finkel becomes more and more engrossed by the story Longo is telling, his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) sees the true monster where Finkel is blindly trying to uncover the man.
The only reason that I can attribute this film’s cinematic failure to is that perhaps it was a little too true for it’s own good. Normally I would applaud this, but sticking to the exact sequence of events was a great detriment to this film. The potentially great performances by the cast remained untapped because the story’s narrative never rose to the emotional heights that the subject matter demanded. Usually, when murder (especially multiple child murders) is involved in court cases, people are the opposite of placid. The mostly even-tempered nature of the characters seemed out of place for everyone except Franco, whose character called for it, being a sociopath and all.
In trying to keep with its verisimilitude, the film’s pacing slows to a crawl. The court proceedings felt less like a murder trialm and more like traffic court. True Story not only underutilized it’s talented cast, but also made the mistake of underdeveloping the characters. The only character that was given an excruciating (and often unnecessary) amount of depth was Mike Finkel, which makes sense since he also co-wrote the film. No true crime film is complete without at least a two dimensional examination of the killer, and aside from the side-glance smirks and a confession at the end (which was already too little too late), Longo mostly remained an uninteresting mystery to us. Finkel, the only “victim” we’re really suppose to care about in this film, is painted all too clearly with his obsessions and insecurities.
True Story is a stark reminder that even film’s based on true stories can benefit from a little bit of cinematic charm. Slow pacing on top of subdued performances and a misappropriation of the film’s focus, turned us into the real victims of this film.
RATING: ★★★(3/10 stars)