After his journalistic integrity is questioned, as a result of numerous inconsistencies in his stories, disgraced New York Time reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) finds his life in a tailspin. Dismissed from the Times, Finkel is stuck in his Montana home with no job prospects on the horizon. While his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) heads off to work at the local University, Finkel spends most of his days calling old contacts in hopes of landing freelance work. His fortunes take a turn when he gets word that one of his devoted readers, Christian Longo (James Franco), who is currently in prison, has a story that he will only tell Finkel.
True Story centres on the discourse between Finkel and Longo in the Lincoln County jail. Longo is willing to tell Finkel his story on two conditions. First, Finkel must not repeat the story to anyone until after the trial. The second condition is that Finkel teaches him how to write. Thus begins the psychological chess game between the pair. Longo is strategic in the way he divulges his information. Finkel, on the other hand, is so desperate to restore his professional reputation that he willingly enters into Longo’s world without fully assessing all the angles beforehand.
British stage director Rupert Goold makes his feature film debut with this cat-and-mouse tale. He effectively captures the eerie and sanitized aspects of prison life. The sparseness of Longo’s cell, the blinding whiteness of the hallway walls, and the sense of isolation are vividly on display. Goold is also keen to remind the audience of the dangers that lurk within the Lincoln County jail. His camera takes time to focus on every detail from the prison handcuffing procedures to the disturbing drawings Longo completes in his cell.
James Franco shows he can shine when given good material to work with. He conveys an ease in playing a man who can be both likable and unsettling at the same time. Felicity Jones continues her string of strong performances as Jill. Though she does not get as much screen time as she deserves, she makes the most of her moments in the film. Most of the heavy lifting in the film falls on the shoulders of Jonah Hill. He turns in a credible performance, but one cannot help but think an actor with his talents could have added even more weight to the material.
True Story is a tense crime thriller that demands the viewer’s attention. If you’re a true crime drama fan then this film is worth a watch.