Two stars. Rated R, for profanity and disturbing content
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.17.15
Bad movies are irritating for all sorts of reasons. Many, easy to dismiss as talentless garbage, aren’t worth fretting about.
I get seriously annoyed, though, with the ones that show promise — particularly those with an intriguing premise, and an approach that hints at clever psychological complexity — and then fail to deliver. Utterly.
Those are infuriating, generating a level of hostility that sends viewers grumbling from the theater, wishing it were possible to reclaim those two hours of their lives.
True Story is just such a film.
At first blush, for viewers who approach it cold, the early scenes of director Rupert Goold’s big-screen debut evoke pleasant memories of 1996’s Primal Fear, with its twisty battle of wits between hotshot attorney Richard Gere and the altar boy (Edward Norton) accused to killing a respected Catholic priest.
But True Story isn’t fiction; Goold and co-scripter David Kajganich have based their film on the bizarre events actually experienced by disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel, as recorded in his 2005 book, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. That shifts this big-screen adaptation into entirely different territory ... although, in the final analysis, the distinction is moot.
It would have been unsatisfying as a fictitious drama, and it’s equally tedious as a wannabe historical record.
I walked away with two strong impressions: 1) Finkel still wants absolution for past sins, and this film ain’t gonna bring him that satisfaction — frankly, nothing should — and 2) stars James Franco and Jonah Hill appear to have viewed this project as a means to establish some “serious actor” cred. They’re doomed to equal disappointment.
This movie’s a stiff: deadly dull, clumsily executed and ultimately maddening. The storyline sets up numerous issues that demand answers, none of them forthcoming. Setting aside any attempt by Goold to achieve artistic ambiguity, the reason for failure is obvious: We’re dealing with two liars. Once this becomes obvious, as the film concludes, we can’t help feeling conned.
Granted, one character may be a pathological liar, as opposed to the one who’s perhaps only an accidental liar — and I stress the “perhaps” — but the result is the same. We’re left in the hands of unreliable narrators: the death of engaging drama.