This film, depicting the real life murder of an Oregon family, attempts to cast doubt on a killer and his motive for taking the lives of his wife and children. It advances the notion that the suspect arrested for the homicides, is actually someone else—dropping the early impression that this true story is really a matter of mistaken identity. Unfortunately, like the rest of the movie, that mystery is tossed aside too quickly and without proper explanation. Despite every attempt to create doubt and instill tension towards a dramatic, unpredictable ending, “True Story” culminates in a lackluster and nuanced finish.
An exceptional ensemble of Hollywood’s brightest stars can’t overcome a bland, and often times stale, storyline. Led by two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill (from 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”), playing a New York Times reporter caught fabricating a story and subsequently fired, the movie launches viewers quickly into the murder mystery and whodunit. James Franco (Oscar nominated for “127 Hours” in 2010) plays the suspect captured for killing his spouse and kids, but now claiming to be Hill’s washed up reporter identity to authorities.
The biggest disappointment in “True Story” is the story itself. Viewers are expected to emotionally care for Hill’s unethical and deceptive reporter. Today, that’s a difficult and unappealing bridge to cross for those suspect of some in the media to stay impartial and factual in their reporting. Therefore, minus any loyalty to Hill’s character, it’s Franco’s role as the murder suspect that viewers are left to invest in–questioning of his guilt or innocence in the horrendous crime.
As evidenced in 2013’s “Homefront” opposite good guy Jason Statham, Franco portrays evil exceptionally well on film. In “True Story”, Franco once again carries every scene he’s in with the look and sound of a man that’s left death tolls in his wake. The film’s strongest performance, though, is reserved for Felicity Jones, the shining costar in last year’s Academy Award nominated “The Theory of Everything”. While her role in this film is vastly more limited, Jones provides a much-needed spark, delivering the movie’s hardest hitting, emotional lines.
Although “True Story” attempts to squeeze every possible ounce of suspense from these real events, there just aren’t enough twists and turns to grab the audience’s attention or invoke surprise in a weak plot. Believable characters from an exceptional cast isn’t enough to save this murder drama from sinking. It seems appropriate and just that the New York Times journalist who lost his job for embellishing stories, led to a boring film that lacks excitement and interest. Previous actions causing influence on his later fate—or karma for short.
“True Story” is rated R for language and some disturbing material. It’s running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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