Friday, April 17, 2015

‘True Story’ needs more action, pacing—truly

By Steve Crum

True enough that there is plentiful cat-and-mouse interplay between the two leads, that the movie is based a truth-inspired memoir, and that a compelling plot line hooks the viewer pretty much throughout. But the truth of True Story’s failing lies is in its pacing and character development. Casting a limited actor like Jonah Hill in one of the two leading roles does not help elevate the film above C level. 

As refreshing as it is not to see a comic book, slam-banger movie this close to summer releases, the talky True Story could use some movement. Adapting it as a stage play seems more plausible. 
That said, True Story’s director, Rupert Goold, teamed with David Kajganich to adapt Michael Finkel’s best selling book into an intriguing screenplay. This is Goold’s first feature film after helming a smattering of PBS-TV Masterpiece Theatres. 

At the story’s outset, Finkel (Hill) is covering a human interest story in Africa about the slave trade. The story is lauded and featured on his paper’s front page, the tenth time his stories have achieved New York Times cover status over the last three years. Finkel and his wife, Jill (Felicity Jones), enjoy a comfortable life outside the city. 

Then complications ensue as hell breaks loose. Christian Longo, creepily and believably portrayed by James Franco, is arrested in Mexico. Longo has been on the lam since his wife and three small children were found brutally murdered. The twist is he has been hiding out by using the name Michael Finkel. 
Concurrently, the real Finkel is fired from his job for falsifying his African story. Soon after, Finkel learns of his namesake’s activities. It does not take long for him to visit Longo at prison with the hope of writing a book recounting the heinous murders. It echoes Truman Capote, but with a same-name angle. 

However, Longo has other ideas which jeopardize the credibility of the already disgraced Finkel. James Franco really carries the film as the questionable suspect, while Hill’s Finkel comes across as naive and witless—so out of character for a guy who was once a major journalist with the country’s top newspaper. 

Mentioning Felicity Jones as Mrs. Finkel is hardly worth a sentence since her role is pretty much nondescript, except for pouting her lips.  
Jonah Hill deserves a plus for stretching his screen persona from daffy teen airhead (21 Jump Street; Superbad) to two Oscar nominations (Moneyball; The Wolf of Wall Street). True Story is a very serious film, and Hill gives it his best. But maybe it is a loft out of his reach since this time he is one of the two stars, not a supporting actor. Throughout he seems to carry the same impassive look.

Releasing True Story now is timely in lieu of reporting scandals over the past months by Rolling Stone magazine as well as NBC’s Brian Williams.
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GRADE on A to F Scale: C

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