UK Release Date: 17th July 2015
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Rupert Goold
Writer: Rupert Goold, David Kajganich
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Robert John Burke
Synopsis: A disgraced newspaper reporter finds himself an interesting new story to work on, when he discovers that an alleged killer used his name as an alias whilst on the run from the police.
When you think of a film starring both Jonah Hill and James Franco, you’d be forgiven for imagining any number of stoner comedy films the pair have appeared in over the last decade. You’re unlikely to think of a tense, dramatic true crime tale which mostly focuses on two men talking in a blank room. That’s exactly what we’ve got with True Story, which is an absorbing and engrossing film about the nature of truth.
Michael Finkel (Hill) is sacked from his job at the New York Times after changing some details on a big cover story. Whilst chasing freelance work, he learns that Christian Longo (Franco) – in prison accused of murdering his family – used his name as an alias whilst on the run. As Finkel’s wife Jill (Felicity Jones) stays at home, he attempts to meet with Longo, hoping to discover what’s going on inside his head.
Despite their reputation for comedy, both Franco and Hill have made interesting forays into serious work. Both are Oscar-nominated, with Franco scooping a Best Actor nod for 127 Hours and Hill earning a pair of Supporting Actor noms for Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street. In True Story, both are at the height of their acting powers, constructing a pair of characters who both make a habit of manipulating truth and shaping it for their own ends.
| "Sometimes the truth isn’t believable. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not true."
Hill is excellent as a character who is immensely interested in morality and truth, but seems happy to manipulate those for the sake of a better story. He’s a hypocrite in just about every way, which is what makes him such an interesting counterpoint to Longo. Franco plays Longo as slimy, but charismatic, keen to unpick what it is that separates him from Finkel, when actually they aren’t so different at all.
The third part of what almost comes across as a central love triangle is Felicity Jones as Hill’s wife. Unfortunately, True Story finds very little for Jones to do, other than tear into Franco in one potent, emotional scene towards the end of the movie. The tensions in her relationship with Hill are intriguing and it’s a real missed opportunity when the film leaves them largely unexplored.
But this is a story of masculine posturing above all else, with two men who are unlikely to have ever been the alpha in the room. The best scenes of True Story are when Hill and Franco are alone together, with the film losing its momentum in the third act as it limps to a rather muddled and unsatisfying climax.
| "Everybody deserves to have their story heard."
There is an issue with True Story in that Rupert Goold has very little in the way of ideas to make the film cinematic. It feels like a television drama at times, albeit a gripping one with terrific performances at its heart. It’s not a film that will win awards or become a classic, but it’s a hidden gem that deserves to be seen a lot more widely than it was on release.
Pop or Poop?
It’s often televisual and lacks much narrative clarity, but True Story is a worthy film anchored by a pair of performances from two men who evidently know each other very well and trade brilliantly on that natural chemistry.
Felicity Jones gets short-shrift and the climax never really gets the clarity it needs, but the film is gripping for most of its runtime and works very well as a two-hander character study.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.