List Film

True Story (2 stars)

Unconvincing crime thriller starring James Franco and Jonah Hill

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True Story

Credit: Mary Cybulski

Find the perfect angle and your readers are in the palm of your hand. Every journalist knows this, yet few would chase its realisation to the extent Michael Finkel did. A New York Times writer already disgraced for distorting the truth of the African slave trade for the sake of a cover story, Finkel drove himself further into risk by befriending a certain Christian Longo – a man accused of murdering his wife and three children, yet finally caught in Mexico masquerading as none other than Finkel himself. Some angle.

Each unnerving oddity that followed was subsequently documented in Finkel’s book True Story, now brought to screen by debut writer-director Rupert Goold (current artistic director of London’s acclaimed Almeida Theatre), with Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as Longo. Goold appears well-versed in the mechanics of the accomplished thriller, profiting off the simple attraction of ‘yeah, but did he do it?’ – itself underlined by Franco’s fittingly inscrutable performance. Sure, mock him for his self-declared vanity, but the guy knows his own face well enough to hit every micro-movement needed to subtly switch from pleading earnestness to shadowy malice.

Yet True Story’s undoing is that it lacks the very thing Finkel himself so desperately prized: the perfect angle. It’s a film lost in its search for meaning, that's crippled by emphatic dialogue: 'The truth always matters'; 'Everybody deserves to have their story heard.' It’s as if every sentence is in a battle to be this movie’s tagline. Reams of overtly forthright, unnaturally eloquent speech confuse its characters to the point of making them sound indistinguishable from one another. The award-winning journalist talks just like the convict who professes he lacks 'a mastery of words,' yet uses the phrase 'a mastery of words.' Finkel’s wife Jill (Felicity Jones) is woefully silent, but even her single, unprovoked monologue adopts the same language. For a true story, it’s surprisingly fake.

General release from Fri 17 Jul.

True Story

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 99 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Rupert Goold
  • Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
  • UK release: 17 July 2015

This unconvincing crime thriller follows disgraced New York Times writer, Michael Finkel, (Hill) who befriends Christian Longo (Franco) – a man accused of murdering his wife and three children, yet finally caught in Mexico masquerading as none other than Finkel himself. True Story ’s undoing is that it lacks the very…

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