The movie begins with Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a reporter for the New York Times, conducting interviews with African children for an expose piece of cocoa plantations. Being such an expert journalist, his story naturally makes the front page; he proudly points out to his wife (Felicity Jones) that it’s his tenth cover. But soon his editor discovers that he fudged some of the details to make a better story, and he is consequently fired. Out of work since no newspaper will touch him, Mike latches on to a bizarre story about a man named Christian Longo (James Franco), who is accused of murdering his wife and three children. But while Longo was hiding out in Mexico, he used Finkel’s name. Intrigued, Finkel writes to Longo, and the two begin exchanging letters. Later Finkel visits Longo in jail, and the two quickly develop a relationship as Finkel decides to write a book about Longo; in exchange for teaching him how to be a better writer, Longo will tell Finkel the truth.
The core problem is that I just didn’t find either Hill’s or Franco’s characters very interesting, and that’s a fatal flaw in a movie which relies upon those characters so heavily to carry the plot. Because neither Finkel nor Longo are very interesting, the movie just kind of drags along under its own weight; it’s not particularly bad, but neither is it engaging. I kept waiting for there to be some plot twist or big reveal or even a moment when I would start to become engaged in anything that was happening, but it never came; even at only 95 minutes the movie seems very long. The only moment when I felt a spark of life was when the writing very briefly improved for a single scene in which Felicity Jones’ character confronts Franco’s: this one scene with good writing (and subsequently, good acting) woke me up for a minute with the potential of what this movie could have been–an engaging character piece about deception.
But then the scene ends, the mediocre dialogue resumes, and I realize that Felicity Jones’ character, who gets only one major scene and who is not relevant to the plot at all, is the only person in this movie I care about. At which point I realize that I don’t particularly care whether Christian Longo murdered his family or not, and I let my mind wander for the last few minutes until the movie ends.