For their second collaboration, after 2013's hit comedy This is The End, actors James Franco and Jonah Hill take a turn for the dramatic crime picture True Story, based on journalist Mike Finkel's book of the same name - about an account of Christopher Longo and his murders.

Jonah Hill takes on the role of journalist Finkel. The film begins with him interviewing some African boys, who have been abused and discriminated against, in the Southern East. In comes James Franco, who we first meet in a church in Mexico. When asked by a girl what his name is, he responds with Mike Finkel and so the stage is very quickly set for a tense game of cat-and-mouse that follows with the latter stealing the former's identity.

After he is terminated from The New York Times, when his story on the boys he encountered at the start of the film goes awry, Finkel struggles to find employment. But, when he finds out about an individual, Christopher Longo, that has been detained for murdering his family that's using Finkel's identity, the journalist sees this as an opportunity for redemption and a chance to chase his biggest scoop yet. However, as he delves deeper and deeper into Longo's case, the lines between his innocence begin to blur and soon he is caught up in a game of shadows.

London theater director Rupert Goold makes his first foray into feature-length directing with True Story. This film is ambiguity in a nutshell, something Goold likes to inject into his productions. You're either on-board the ambiguity or not and if it's not the latter, then this is going to be one painful watch. From start to finish, this will keep the audience guessing - that is, if you're unaware of the infamous Longo. If the title wasn't blatant enough, the picture tells the true story of the trials of Christopher Longo and how disgraced New York Times writer Mike Finkel gets caught up in his 'game', if you will.
In some ways, it's a biopic. It's also part-documentary whilst being an adaption too, of Finkel's novel of the same name. Is it a faithful adaption? I can't say. Does it, however, do the titular true story justice? Yes and no. It sheds light on the case whilst never fully quenching our thirst for a better understanding of it. Is it a good film, though? It's certainly a competent viewing that has some real moments of greatness. Unfortunately, these moments are very sporadic and scattered throughout a, for the most part, uneven picture.

There's a lot of problems with True Story. For starters, the script is very mawkishly written and the dialogue can be very sloppy at times, as can the development of the premise. The story loses its footing often and there's a lot of inconsistency with what's going on. The characters also remain rather bland and very underdeveloped, whilst being the biggest anchor of the picture. Yet, despite all this, there's just something about this film that keeps the viewer intrigued and keeps them entertained. There's a lot to like too. The script, whilst weighed down with poor writing, boasts some ingenious ideas and the film shows off some cinema greatness. The cinematography is great and this is one crisp, sleek looking picture. The pacing is very slow and it's definitely not for everyone. This is a one-viewing film, kind of like what the case was with Foxcatcher. However, that's not a bad thing and, in fact, adds to the intrigue.

Speaking on the note of intrigue, this is where the film is at its best. If you don't like open-ended conclusions (think Zodiac and you're on the right lines), then you're going to hate this. Throughout the whole film, there's a nice, mysterious atmosphere. The characters are portrayed in such a way that you never know whether Longo is lying or not and evidence is given to back up both points. And as his relationship with Finkel grows, things only begin to get that bit more ambiguous. Sure, the outcome of the trial is revealed but the concluding moments of True Story are such that it doubts all your thoughts on this topic. The ending is pure ambiguity and leaves the door open to interpretation. It raises more questions than it answers.

As far as the acting in this flick goes, Jonah Hill and James Franco give nice dramatic performances, a turn from their usual comedic roles. You really believe them in their roles and there's some veritable chemistry between the pair. Unfortunately though, the characters in this film have been very poorly written that you can never fully empathise with them due to a sense of unlikeability. Neither Longo or Finkel are fleshed out enough and given too much depth and substance. Franco and Hill give good performances but, due to the script, their characters are never quite fully realised which means some of their more sincere scenes never quite work out. The same goes for Felicity Jones, who just seems the most underused and wasted from the trio.

Overall, True Story is a decent film. It comes with its fair share of problems but it's an interesting and engaging telling of the trial of Christopher Longo and his story with Mike Finkel. The cinematography is good and the film boasts some really intriguing concepts and ideals and the ambiguity heightens the mystery. The acting is great too but, unfortunately, it doesn't rise to its true potential and, at times, seems like a wasted opportunity. All this, due to a cloying script.

True Story is an engaging and ambiguous enough picture that it captivates for its runtime. Unfortunately, its scripting problems mean this missed opportunity isn't one to remember in the long run.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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