Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Robert John Burke
Rated R for Language and Some Disturbing Material
"True Story" hints at a far more unsettling story than it ultimately reveals. Whether it was due to unfortunate choices in the editing room or a script that failed to fully explore the psychological game that forms the meat of this story, what could have been the second coming of "The Silence of the Lambs" ends up being just another disappointing thriller.
Mike Finkel (Hill) is a treasured writer at the New York Times. At least he is until he was caught fudging the facts in one of his stories and fired. His reputation in ruins, he's all out of options until another reporter asks him about an accused murderer named Christian Longo (Franco). Longo is accused of murdering his family then fleeing to Cancun and living under Mike's identity. Curious, Mike contacts Christian in the hopes of finding some sort of redemption. But things are definitely not what they seem.
The psychological connection between Mike and Christian is the heart of the story, but sadly it's half-developed. I never fully understood what drove either of them, nor their goals. Sure, Mike wants to atone for his mistake and Christian is clearly hiding something, but more than that remains a mystery. I didn't know what to make of their relationship and what it meant to either of them.
Although they are most famous for their Frat Pack comedies, both Jonah Hill and (to a lesser extent) James Franco can actually act. Their performances are low-key but tightly controlled. They fully inhabit the skins of the people they are portraying. Hill plays Mike as a guy who is so obsessed with redemption that he is unaware that he could be being betrayed. Franco, rarely a particularly convincing actor (to be honest, the only good performance he's had is in "127 Hours"), manages to be both intelligent and occasionally creepy. However, he's kept too low key and as a result comes across as less charismatic than would have served the character better. Felicity Jones is good as Mike's girlfriend, Jill, but for the most part her character is essentially superfluous.
Comparing "True Story" to "The Silence of the Lambs" is admittedly a big stretch, but the twisted relationship between Mike and Christian bears similarity to that of Clarice and Hannibal on some level. It's not as intelligent or sophisticated, and the writing here is certainly nowhere near that of Ted Tally's Oscar-winning script, but it's impossible not to watch this movie and not think of the 1991 thriller.
Problems aside, "True Story" still manages to compel and occasionally chill. Even if we don't figure it all out by the end.