Friday, April 17, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - True Story

At the opening of the film Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) interviews a group of young boys in the West African nation of Mali.  Finkel asks them about a coco plantation where they had worked.  Each boy had accounts of abuse suffered at the plantation. One of the boys Youssouf indicated that he had been beaten with scars on his back as evidence that Finkel asks to see. The notes from the Mali interviews turned into another cover article in New York Times Magazine for Finkel entitled  Is Youssouf Male A Slave? However his fortunes were about to change on two fronts.  The paper called him in to discuss inconsistencies in his story then he learned that an accused multiple murder was using his name when he was arrested for his crimes in Cancun.

True Story is at its centre a dialogue between writer Finkel and one of his devoted readers Newport Oregon resident Christian Longo (James Franco) who is in Lincoln County jail accused of killing his whole family then skipping off to Mexico. The films narrative is fleshed out in jail house scenes between the pair. Longo is willing to tell his story to Finkel on two conditions.  One that he does not repeat the story to anyone until after the trial and the second that Finkel teaches him how to write. Thus begins the back and forth with Longo giving out small pieces of information, sighing, hesitating or stating that he cannot talk about the important facts when pressed. Finkel is being lured willingly into Longo's world knowing that he needs the story to gain back his reputation.

After his dismissal from the times Finkel returned home to his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) in Montana.  His days consist of calling old contacts looking for freelance work who refused to touch him and tramping out in the snow to his mailbox while Jill goes to work at the University.

British stage Direct Rupert Goold is at the helm for this film. The sanitized and eerie aspects of the prison are two elements that the production get right. The sparse items in Longo's cell, the blinding whiteness of the hallways and walls at County are vividly on display. The piece also builds the dangerous element of Longo's character partly through the buy the book cuff procedure before and after each meeting. The other devise to raise the threat level are the drawing Longo completes in his cell and send to Finkel as part of a manifesto entitled Wrong Turns.

James Franco shows he is very capable when he gets good material. Franco is at ease as the clean cut accused multiple murderer. He is calm, friendly likeable  but detached in all of the County one on ones. He gives Longo life through his facial expressions using the heavy The impression that eyelid technique along with an ever present slight trace of a smirk. Felicity Jones continues her string of strong performances as Jill. Her performance begs for more screen time as Jill. She has one face to face scene with Franco where she clearly shows Christian Longo who he is and its not someone Jill likes at all. Jonah Hill has a lot to do as the author and central figure in the piece. He turns in a credible performance but there are many instants where you can't help but feel that more could have been done with the material.

True Story is a crime thriller based on a set of facts adapted into a script with several strong moments. The narrative is tense, plotting and requires the viewers attention to obtain a full sense of the piece. James Franco and Felicity Jones are particularly strong in their roles.  If you're a true crime drama fan then this film is worth a watch.

*** Out of 4.

True Story | Rupert Goold | U.S.A. | 2015 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Writer, New York Times, Murder Case, Court Room Drama, Jailhouse Interview, Montana, Oregon.

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