Truth is such a commodity in our lives. So is our sense of identity. Which is fitting, because what greater truth is there than who we are. Sometimes that specific truth is compromised, and be it by our own actions or the actions of others, it tends to be the sort of compromise that really makes us think about just how much we know ourselves. It is that truth in identity that is explored to great lengths in Rupert Goold’s directorial debut, True Story, which has an equally interesting cast behind its already intriguing story.
After a professional debacle that has left him in a holding pattern, reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is informed that suspected murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) has assumed his identity after the murder of his wife and children. Hoping to find a story juicy enough to bring him back into the professional fold, Finkel begins to interview Longo about the crimes for which he is under investigation. What begins as a simple exchange of knowledge for tradecraft turns into a slowly darkening picture of two men who have a lot more in common than they thought.
True Story feels like the first Oscar contender we have in this year’s film market, which is no surprise considering distributor Fox Searchlight used a similar “early in” strategy with The Grand Budapest Hotel last year. The film is methodically paced, and anchored by two damned solid performances from Hill and Franco, who display well-honed dramatic chops and play just as well together in a serious picture as they do in a farce.
Rupert Goold’s directorial hand keeps this film on track, with nothing salacious to jolt the audience. There are no musical stings, there’s no histrionics that are designed to make you feel afraid, and there’s no cheap dramatic short cuts. What the film does invoke is a slowly increasing sense of dread and deception, which leads to a finale that packs a punch without having to devolve into melodrama.
The only real criticism against the film is the fact that the character of Michael’s wife, played by recent Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones, is way under-developed. We do get to see her react to her husband’s quest for the truth, as well as the slowly building dread and insecurity she has for her own safety throughout the film. All of this culminates in a brilliant scene in the third act where her character gets to be front and center, but unfortunately, its brilliance is tempered by the fact that it’s not totally earned throughout the film’s story.
True Story is a real life monster story. It’s about digging for the truth and trying to spot the liar, with the huge complication being that both parties feel the other is the one that’s being dishonest. Come awards season, this is going to be a film to watch out for, what with collective display of talent on display in all aspects of the film’s production. While this film reminds us what James Franco can do with terrific material, it gives Jonah Hill his first big shot at being front and center in a dramatic capacity (where he had held court in supporting roles before). The greatest triumph of True Story is the fact that Jonah Hill not only renews his dramatic credibility, he proves that he’s ready for more dramatic opportunities.