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With: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Robert John Burke, Gretchen Mol, Ethan Suplee
Written by: Rupert Goold, David Kajganich, based on the book by Michael Finkel
Directed by: Rupert Goold
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing material
Running Time: 100
Date: 04/17/2015

True Story (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Truman and False

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's difficult to argue against Jonah Hill as a fine actor. He has two Oscar nominations, and he was terrific in movies ranging from Superbad to Cyrus. But it's also hard to make a case for him as a leading man, in a totally serious role. In True Story, he just doesn't quite seem right as Michael Finkel, a New York Times reporter who plays poker with his colleagues while chatting on the phone and finishing a story under a tight deadline. He tries to be cocky, but his comic persona seems to be bursting at the seams, trying to get out.

Finkel loses his job, for combining the details of several interview subjects to make a more compelling story. While looking for work, he learns about Christian Longo (James Franco), who has been arrested for killing his wife and three children. While on the run, Longo used Finkel's name as an alias. Longo grants Finkel a series of interviews, and the movie comes to life during these sequences. Hill and Franco are obviously longtime associates, both members of the Seth Rogen club, and both appearing in Knocked Up and This Is the End, and they use their shorthand to quickly create a bond.

Director Rupert Goold obviously had Truman Capote and In Cold Blood in mind while making True Story, and it pops into our heads, too, but the comparison isn't always a good thing. This movie just doesn't seem to have quite as much at stake. So Goold and co-screenwriter David Kajganich simply juggle the plot by having Longo continually lie and mislead Finkel — and us — about what really happened. Withholding information can sometimes generate suspense, but this movie comes down to a single question, and the movie simply dances around it for two hours. It grows frustrating.

Goold keeps a slow-burning mood, and allows details like chilly weather and the atmosphere of the prison, to seep into the relationships. He has a good eye for actors; recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones plays what could have been the thankless role of Finkel's girlfriend, but she eventually becomes a kind of lynchpin in the relationship. Fine character actors (Gretchen Mol, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke, etc.) decorate the corners of the movie, providing weight and depth. But ultimately True Story is less a story than it is a minor anecdote.

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