How James Franco’s Next Movie Raises Questions Relevant to ‘The Interview’ Cancellation

By  · Published on December 18th, 2014

Fox Searchlight Pictures

James Franco makes a lot of movies, many of which aren’t released for a very long time. See his 2010 documentary Saturday Night, for instance – and now you actually can, thanks to Hulu, six years after it was shot and four after it had its premiere at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. I’d like to assume The Interview will also eventually see the light of day, despite Sony’s current plans to shelve the movie entirely, without any kind of theatrical or home video release, due to the threat against any venue willing to show the comedy. A big studio feature is different than a nonfiction pet project like Saturday Night, of course, as is the reason for its deference. I’ve seen industry experts speculate that Sony will write-off The Interview as a total loss to collect on their insurance, and that would mean the movie couldn’t ever be released down the road after this all blows over.

We’ll just have to move on to what’s next from Franco, then. While I’m not sure what will be released first, the actor has two new features debuting next month at the Sundance Film Festival. One is I Am Michael, which has Franco starring as the real-life Michael Glatze, a former gay rights activist who later denounced his homosexuality. The other is True Story, in which he plays another real person, Christian Longo, who murdered his wife and three small children in 2001. We can say it in those terms rather than having to write “he was convicted of” or that “allegedly” he committed the heinous crime, because he fully admitted to doing so after his trial. This was also after he had spent his first year in jail corresponding with journalist Michael Finkel (played in the movie by Jonah Hill) claiming innocence in hopes of being acquitted through the influence of stories written on his case.

Watch the trailer for True Story via Yahoo after the jump and find out how the story of Longo might be relevant to what’s become of The Interview.

In the wake of Sony’s decision last night to cancel the entire release of The Interview, following its being pulled by many theater chains concerned about the threat, defenses in the studio’s favor could be found just as prevalently as criticisms. One that I noticed from a lot of people is this question: what if Sony had stuck with the release and something happened? That’s a version of a question that has been asked time and again about many incidents and potential incidents. It was even the debate at the center of a controversial episode of Doctor Who this year in which an unborn alien was going to be murdered because it might possibly maybe destroy the Earth once it hatched from its egg. That’s akin to asking if we should murder toddlers exhibiting sociopathic traits because they could grow up to be serial killers.

Or should we build another World Trade Center because it might also be attacked by terrorists? Should we have built the first one, knowing what we know now? Should we not make movies and other art that might provoke ire because that ire might lead to violence? And finally should we acquit men on trial for murder who could be innocent when they also could be guilty and later kill again? That’s where the plot of True Story fits in, because Longo’s attempt to go free on a con is what tarnishes actual wrongly accused and convicted people out there. And that’s what inspires comments like Dick Cheney’s this week regarding the CIA’s killing and torturing of some innocent people: “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.” You can find similar defenses of the faults in our judicial system from many around the country.

Is it indeed better to be safe than sorry? It’s difficult to answer the question specifically proposed by True Story, because while we don’t know if Longo would have killed again or committed other crimes if let free, we at least know for sure that he deserved to be convicted. It’s less difficult to answer the question about The Interview even if we don’t know if a theater would have been bombed had it been released. We couldn’t know that Zero Dark Thirty was 100% safe from retaliation by terrorists angered by Hollywood’s celebration of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. We also don’t know if someone is going to be assassinated while leading a civil rights movement even when he’s receiving such threats that he will be. We don’t know most bad things will happen before they happen – threat or not – nor what might be linked as a cause of those bad things.

But this isn’t necessarily a matter of The Interview now so much as what possible film productions will no longer happen because of the precedent (such as the already canceled Gore Verbinkski/Steve Carell movie Pyongyang). We don’t stay put when there’s a bomb threat called into a place, and the pulling of The Interview is just the same as the precaution of evacuation in those cases. But we also don’t permanently stay out of the place or avoid buildings overall following that threat.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.