ACADEMY AWARD® Nominees James Franco and Jonah Hill* star in this mesmerizing thriller from cowriter-director Rupert Goold, based on a chilling real-life story. After journalist Michael Finkel (Hill) is fired from The New York Times for embellishing a story, he learns that accused murderer Christian Longo (Franco) has been claiming to be him. Hoping this story will save his career, Finkel begins interviewing Longo in prison. But soon, the men find themselves in an eerie game of cat and mouse in this psychological drama that also stars OSCAR® Nominee Felicity Jone
Let's get one thing out of the way before we dive further into this review of 'True Story': Jonah Hill is a really good actor. I know many have questioned his multiple Oscar nominations as sort of a fluke or a flash-in-the-pan, but the guy can really deliver in dramatic roles, and I hope he pursues more of them. For whatever problems 'True Story' has as a film – and it has a number – none of them are the fault of Hill, who gives a good performance here.
In case you were wondering, 'True Story' is indeed a true story, as Hill takes on the role of New York Times reporter Mike Finkel who, at the outset of the movie, is fired by the newspaper. Finkel has gotten in trouble for doing a story about modern-day slave trade still going on in Africa and made the decision to composite the problems he came across with several young men into a single person, hoping his story would have more impact with the readers that way. The poor decision not only costs him his job, but the willingness of other publishers to work with him.
One day, Finkel gets a phone call where he's asked if he's heard of Christian Longo. Longo (James Franco) has been arrested for the brutal murder of his wife and three children, whose dead bodies were stuffed inside suitcases and thrown into the water. Before he was caught and arrested by the police, Longo had told people he was, in fact, Mike Finkel from the New York Times, which leads Finkel to go meet with Longo in prison to try and find out why Longo was using his identity.
A big chunk of 'True Story' consists of the Finkel and Longo characters sitting across from one other in prison and having conversations. Longo wants Finkel to get his story out to the public, while Finkel sees it as an opportunity to both redeem and reestablish his career. The biggest problem here is, despite the fact that the film is based on actual people and events, we've seen this kind of movie before – where the accused tries to tell his story to a single person, who then doesn't know whether they are being told the truth or being lied to about what really happened.
While I've already mentioned I think Hill does a good job in this movie, I really have to question the casting of James Franco in the Christian Longo role. Franco is also a good actor, but the portrayal here requires Longo's story to be believable, and James Franco is never able to pull that off. There's never any doubt that Longo is manipulating Finkel, and a big chunk of that is due to the way Franco performs the character. The movie would have been much better served by hiring an actor that audiences would be less likely to believe was responsible for horrible crimes. No one is ever going to buy that with a character played by Franco, who always seems to have a devilish twinkle in his eye.
Oh, have I failed to mention that Oscar nominee Felicity Jones is also in this? That's probably because her character – she plays Finkel's girlfriend, Jill Barker – is so inconsequential to the proceedings that the movie feels the need to 'invent' a scene for her late in the film where she confronts Longo in prison. I have no idea what happened in reality, but I'm guessing the real-life Barker never had a face-to-face sitdown with Longo. It's one of those things you see on screen and know almost immediately it's an creation of the screenplay. Jones is a better actress than this, and deserved a better-written part.
I had my issues with 'True Story', but it's not a totally dismissible movie, either. Jonah Hill's performance here is worth taking a look at, and the film does manage to raise some interesting questions (which it never really answers) about the effect of ambition on one's integrity. This isn't something you'll want to run out and buy, but worth a viewing should you run across it on cable or Netflix some evening.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'True Story' tells its tale on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the 50GB disc along with an insert containing a digital code for an UltraViolet version of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is frontloaded with an advertisement for Digital HD titles from Fox, plus trailers for 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl', Far from the Madding Crowd, and Cake. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the film, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A-locked.
'True Story' was shot primarily on 35mm film using Arricam and Arriflex equipment and is presented on Blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the video quality here falls short of stunning, it is quite good, with plenty of detail (particularly in outdoor shots) and with grain pushed toward the background and unobtrusive. The prison scenes in the film contain almost exclusively white background which, thankfully, is never blown-out or shows an excessive amount of noise. Fleshtones are well-balanced and consistent throughout, and black levels are also very solid, if not quite inky deep.
In terms of any glitches, I didn't pick up on instances of banding, aliasing, or the like. Overall, this is a very pleasant looking transfer that viewers of the movie should be quite satisfied with.
The primary audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is more than enough for the needs of this presentation. A big chunk of the movie consists of characters sitting in quiet rooms having conversations with each other, so – as you can probably imagine – the lossless track here isn't exactly dynamic, nor does it make a lot of use of the surround speakers, as the overwhelming majority of the dialogue is from up front. However, everything is crisp, clear, and well-rendered, with no noticeable glitches in the audio.
In addition to the DTS-HD 5.1 track, a 5.1 English Descriptive Audio track is also available, as are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
Jonah Hill once again proves he's capable of delivering a dramatic performance, as he tackles the real-life story of reporter/writer Mike Finkel in 'True Story'. While Hill handles his part well, I was less taken with James Franco, who seems miscast as accused killer Christian Longo and is never quite able to pull off the 'is he lying or is he telling the truth?' aspect that is needed for the character. Still, 'True Story' is very watchable at times and, while it may not be either actors' best movie, neither Hill nor Franco do anything to embarrass themselves here. This may not be something you'll want to own, but it's certainly worth a viewing.