TRUE STORY (USA/15A/99mins)
Directed by Rupert Goold. Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Maria Dizzia, Ethan Suplee.
THE PLOT: When it is discovered that new York Times journalist Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) made a composite character of five men he interviewed, for the sake of a better story, he is fired in disgrace. Not long afterwards, he gets a call from a local Oregon journalist telling him of Christian Longo (James Franco), a man who is accused of murdering his wife and family before going on the run using Finkel’s name. Intrigued, and hoping to find the story that will resurrect his career, Finkel contacts Longo in prison, and the two begin talking.
THE VERDICT: TRUE STORY is, as the title would have you believe, based on the true story of the strange relationship that sprung up between a man accused of murder and a disgraced journalist. It is interesting to see Jonah Hill and James Franco, comedy partners from This Is The End, team up on this project and manage to make the film an engaging enough drama.
Jonah Hill does fine as Michael Finkel; although he doesn’t always bring a huge level of depth to the character, it is his curiosity that drives the film, and he is able to carry the project on his shoulders. James Franco also does fine as Christian Longo; he has a great dead eyed stare, and is convincing enough to draw Finkel into his web of lies. Felicity Jones is criminally underused as Finkel’s partner Jill, although she has one great scene filled with fear and dread, and another one that is overly melodramatic and unnecessary. The rest of the cast is made up of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s Maria Dizzia and MY NAME IS EARL’s Ethan Suplee.
The story, adapted from Finkel’s book True Story; Murder, Memoir and Mea Culpa was brought to the screen by David Kajganich and Rupert Goold. The film plays rather like a cinematic version of Serial – or at least something Sarah Koenig would have investigated incredibly well – with the audience drawn in through some well placed tension and the ebb and flow of belief between the two men. There are times where it seems that each is manipulating the other, and this is where the tension for the film comes from, but the trouble is, it is obvious that one of the men is a master at this game, and the other is just learning the ropes.
As director, Rupert Goold makes his debut feature engrossing and interesting. We are never told more than what Finkel sees, but it is obvious that Finkel actually believes the lies so obviously being spun; this, combined with the obvious similarities between the men – and the obvious differences – is where the drama and thrill of the film comes from, although with some stronger central performances the cat and mouse game would have been a lot stronger and more thrilling. It’s not that Franco and Hill are weak per se, they just seem disengaged for a lot of the film.
In all, TRUE STORY has a thrilling tale at its heart; director Rupert Goold proves that he is one to watch out for. Lacklustre performances from Jonah Hill and James Franco, however, push TRUE STORY down from a thrilling game of cat and mouse to an often engaging tale of rat and mouse.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

True Story
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Lacklustre Performances
  • filmbuff2011

    Perhaps aware of its own title and trying not to be self-referential, True Story doesn’t begin with any declarations of intent. Are we watching fiction or reality based on fact? Mike (Jonah Hill) is a journalist with the New York Times. Writing a piece on Mexican labour exploitation, he finds himself in hot water when he amalgamates certain characters and events in the story, so it’s not factually correct. He loses his job and returns home. It’s at this point that he gets a call to go to Oregon to cover the incarceration and trial of Christian (James Franco), a family man accused of brutally killing his wife and three children. When Christian fled the crime scene, he ended up in Mexico and stated that he was Mike from the New York Times. It seems that Mike has an admirer. Mike goes to meet Christian in prison and get his side of the story, to get to the heart of the matter. He starts to write a book on his conversations with Christian. He then meets resistance from the local community and even his girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones), but Mike feels drawn to Christian and his way of telling stories, particularly his own tragic one. Thus begins a game of verbal and literary cat and mouse. Did Christian really kill his whole family and if so, why? And why has he reacted in such a cool and calculating manner to the whole affair? It’s only over the end credits that we find out that True Story is actually based on a true story. Based on Mike Finkel’s book of the same name, True Story is a film that mostly works, but never fully convinces. Better known for co-starring in outrageous comedies, Hill and Franco make the dramatic sparks fly across the table as their characters try to out-wit and manipulate each other. They’re good performances, but Franco’s trademark Cheshire Cat grin is too out of place in a grisly crime story about a child killer. The real-life drama behind the actual case makes for compelling viewing though, as we’re never really sure if Christian is telling the truth, lies or even half truths. Debut director Rupert Goold makes good use of his camerawork and locations, but doesn’t push his actors too much towards greater heights. Given the horrific nature of the crimes involved, True Story should feel like a more important film, but instead it just feels slightly average. Worth seeking out though, especially if you have an interest in true crime. ***