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True Story


Stars: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Robert John Burke, Gretchen Mol, Ethan Suplee

Director: Rupert Goold

New York Times reporter Michael Finkel is dismissed for having embroidered the character of a character in an allegedly true story about slavery in Africa he was covering for the newspaper.

Finkel, played by an unusually serious Jonah Hill (you know this character is serious since he wears glasses, although it’s soon patently obvious the lenses are plain which makes the spectacles a prop), heads home in disgrace to Darkest Montana.

Then he learns that a man called Christian Longo has been using his name as an alias while fleeing the law after allegedly killing his wife and children. Finkel needs to revive his career (or seek redemption, if you will) and arranges to meet Longo (played with effective lack of genuine warmth or charm by James Franco) in prison. The unlikely couple bonds – well sort of - and match wits and confidences over the period up to Longo’s trial…

It’s an interesting story told in such a way that you can never be quite certain who is exploiting whom – is Finkel seeking a career boost by latching on to Longo or is the killer exploiting the writer?

Celebrated British stage director Rupert Goold, making his feature film debut, does a perfectly serviceable job of telling his story and elicits perfectly adequate performances from his leads while wasting Felicity Jones on what turns out to be basically a non-role used to mix a female character into the sometimes creepy ‘bromance’ between Hill and Franco.

In the final analysis I found that Goold’s staging and some largely rather less-than-atmospheric cinematography (Masanobu Takayanagi) made True Story resemble a made-for-TV feature rather than a cinema film.

(The film is ‘Based on a true story’: rather too often that phrase tends to mean “only the facts have been altered to make the movie more sellable”.

This time I have no way of know how accurate director Rupert Goold and David Kajganich’s screenplay based on of Michael Finkel’s book, ‘True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa’ is, other than what I read in the Production Notes/Critic’s Crib Sheet).

So I leave it for you decide how much is real life and how much is Hollywood trimmings.

Alan Frank

USA 2015. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox . Colour by deluxe.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 14 Jul 2015