The landscapes in the film “True Story” are faces and eyes — of a man accused of murdering his family (James Franco), and of the troubled news reporter whose identity the accused man assumes (Jonah Hill). The filmmakers have managed to make this unusual style of storytelling fascinating on film. The sets are simple, with the exception of some notably discomforting drawings hanging on a wall, which become windows into the psyche of the accused.
The movie does not attempt to solve a mystery or to analyze the two main characters. Both have severe levels of dysfunction. The story is really about truth — how easy it is to twist it, embellish it, and then rationalize the lies that have been created. The questions are asked: What is truth? What is the consequence of deceit?
Adapted from the memoir of reporter Michael Finkel, the screenplay was smartly written by the director, Rupert Goold, and David Kajganich. Kajganich is relatively new to screenwriting, yet his short film “In the Clouds” had won nominations and awards at film festivals.
Cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (“Silver Linings Playbook”) is superbly simple and his lighting is such that scenes don’t look “lit.” Editors Christopher Tellefsen and Nicolas De Toth keep the story moving from extreme close-ups to long-shots without a rift. Marco Beltrami’s score matches the emotions running as a searing undercurrent to the seemingly composed, almost poker-faced characters. Indeed, the movie feels like watching “World Championship of Poker,” except for the haunting question of motivation that pervades the story. The producers were smart to hire Goold, an award-winning British theater director, to helm this project. Goold and production designer Jerry Hindle used spare black and white toned sets simple enough to let the faces be the centerpiece.
Stars Hill and Franco reveal their acting skill. Their real stories are not told in words — the truth is told through their eyes. Felicity Jones in a supporting role as the reporter’s girlfriend is the grounded observer who senses the real story in the accused killer’s drawings that hang on her boyfriend’s kitchen wall. She quietly searches for answers along with us, and comes to her own conclusion. Her eyes portray her thoughts, until her strength and anger bubble to the surface in a pivotal scene.
Before seeing this film I had read an article by Maria Shriver detailing a study of men in their mid-20s in our society who feel an overwhelming weight of responsibility in expectations to provide for a family under economic hardship. Sometimes depression or suicide can be the result. As I watched the movie, her article took on greater meaning.
This dark tale is about lies and their impact on everyone involved. I left feeling as if I had been in a theatrical time warp from the late ’40s or early ’50s, watching an Alfred Hitchcock psych thriller or Billy Wilder’s classic, “Double Indemnity,” which he co-wrote with Raymond Chandler. “True Story” is modern day film noir.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at email@example.com.