‘True Story’ too restrained for its own good

By Bob Bloom

“True Story” should have been an engrossing thriller that held you in a vise.
Instead, it’s a quiet and severely underplayed — to the point of boredom — feature that nearly lulls you to sleep.
The film, based on actual events, could have been a compelling cat-and-mouse piece. But director Rupert Goold has his stars, Jonah Hill and James Franco, play their parts in such a low-key manner that they fail to make any connections with the viewers.
And that is the movie’s biggest downfall.
The story follows disgraced “New York Times” writer Michael Finkel (Hill) seeking redemption by writing a piece about Christian Longo (Franco), accused of killing his wife and three small children.
Finkel’s interest in the case is piqued when he is told Longo was traveling in Mexico after the killings posing as Finkel.
true storyFinkel travels to Oregon to interview Longo and discover why he used the reporter’s name.
Longo seduces Finkel with flattery, explaining that he has read and admired his articles. He wants Finkel to write about him and promises to tell him the truth about the night of the killings.
Franco offers a very seductive performance. His Longo is a master manipulator, using a gentle and sincere manner to ensnare people in his web.
Longo’s eyes just drip with humility and honesty, until you look past them. Franco gives a finely controlled performance, but it is too restrained. If Goold had loosened the shackles and allowed Franco a little more space, he could have created a memorable character.
For a seasoned reporter, Finkel seems a bit naïve and easily swayed. But that could be the desperation that illuminates Hill’s characterization as he frantically works to regain his stature and credibility within the journalistic community.
It takes Finkel, who has contracted to write a book about Longo and the crime, a very long time to realize he has been duped.
Even then, Goold prefers to curb Hill, keeping him from unleashing the full force of his deserved resentment, frustration and disappointment at Longo.
Usually, I enjoy artists who can do a little with a minimum of effort. Self-control and inner reflection work as well as bombast — at times even better.
But at certain junctures, an audience needs an escape valve; they need to see a character emotionally explode without any constraints when circumstances warrant it.
“True Story” is one such example. Unfortunately, director Goold held the reins too tight, leaving his actors chomping at the bit, when he could have at least let them — if not gallop — cantor for a few necessary sequences.
“True Story” would have been better for it.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

2 stars out of 4
(R), language, disturbing images

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  • ReelBob

    Share your thoughts on “True Story.” We’d enjoy hearing from you.