When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo – who has taken on Finkel’s identity – his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse.
Directed by Rupert Goold
Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill
Whilst we have at least a smattering of evidence to suggest that both Jonah Hill and James Franco are capable of much more than smutty innuendo, fart gags and bouts of political and social offence on a scale barely approached by others, it is unusual to find them doing serious, straight drama together. Here, the ‘true story’ of Michael Finkel (Hill), disgraced New York Times journalist turned ‘proper’ writer, and his happenstance and subsequent literary fascination with Christian Longo (Franco) is something out of left field for the pair normally found tickling your funny bones.
Rupert Goold’s directorial feature début is not to be sniffed at, approaching as it does a sensitive subject with difficult moments, employing some superstar talent. And for the most part, he actually gets away with it. With the use of maybe a little too much brooding thousand yard stares than is necessary, the score, pace and script are all well delivered and whilst the cinematography isn’t exactly unique or original, it does put the viewer at ease, which is possibly a good thing, seeing as watching Hill and Franco not being lewd and vulgar is enough to be dealing with on its own. Supported sternly enough by an underused Felicity Jones (turning up in the most unusual of places, here) as Finkel’s love interest, the whole production has a little more weight added to it by her presence alone, so it’s a shame we didn’t see more of her. Not that she was ever required to carry the film in terms of kudos.
Franco’s performance in particular is very strong. Complex and intriguing, the viewer my be swayed by this apparently polite and inoffensive perpetrator of a series of grisly crimes. Goold’s choice to make Longo so interesting to both Finkel and the audience may be a moralistic conundrum, but no less meaty for it and Franco delivers this excellently. When on screen, Franco’s performance is hard not to be completely engaged by and you will be left hanging on his every word, even if the signposts to his true self may be a little more obvious to the thriller purists than we might like.
At a smidgen over one hundred minutes, this honestly ends too quickly and elements of Longo’s trial seemed a little glossed over and the conclusion feels a little rushed. Personally, I think the subject matter may well have warranted an extra half an hour maybe.
Great performances of complicated characters is the highlight here, with solid direction its underpinning foundation. Unlikely to get the attention it surely deserves, this will most likely place in the top ten of my movies for this year and higher than that for what’s been so far. Recommended.