sun 23/06/2024

True Story | reviews, news & interviews

True Story

True Story

Rupert Goold's debut film is well-acted but strangely wan

Identity theft: Jonah Hill and James Franco face off in Rupert Goold's first film

Truth isn't so much stranger than fiction as it is duller. That, at least, is the abiding impression left by True Story, the debut film from the adventuresome theatre director Rupert Goold that by rights ought to be considerably more exciting than it is.

Bringing together Jonah Hill and James Franco in a cat-and-mouse game that begins when one appropriates the identity of the other, the result pounds away at its thesis about how similar these apparent adversaries are without extracting much meat from their encounters. 

The rewards come largely from watching Hill further his expanding screen repertoire as a onetime funny-man who can do the other as well – in this case, retreating inward to play the real-life writer Michael Finkel, who was sacked from his job at The New York Times for journalistic malfeasance only to find celebrity of a different kind on the trail of a convicted murderer, Christian Longo, who had along the way appropriated Finkel's name. On the run from his newly shamed career, Finkel finds a cause and possible salvation of sorts in Longo, who has his own, entirely separate issues with the truth. Opposites attract, or would if Goold and David Kajganich's script didn't belabour the notion of the men as Janus-faced sides of an invisible ethical coin. 

Finkel's cavalier regard for accuracy brings him low at the Gray Lady, at least as represented here by Gretchen Mol in fire-breathing form as an editor rendered so livid by her writer's misreporting that a colleague has to tell her to settle down. At the same time, Finkel's crime – fabrication while on the frontline of an investigative assignment in Africa – inevitably pales next to that of Longo, a brooding Oregonian accused of murdering his wife and children.

That grievous act, alluded to in the opening frames, gets revisited visually rather more times than necessary, as if to re-enact events might somehow bring closure to them. No such luck, alas: "Quite frankly, you are a mystery to me," Finkel tells Longo, and no amount of forensic close-ups – Goold wields the camera like a dentist's drill – does much to illuminate the depredations of human behaviour. (Theatre folk will note the fact that Goold's next project, Medea at the Almeida, also deals with child-killing: one senses a theme emerging here.) 

Both stars remain watchable throughout, Hill and Franco cast in cunning opposition to what their respective appearances might suggest. (Of the two it's surely Franco who has the mien of the journalistic superstar, especially in looks-mad Manhattan.) Concealing his career-fuelled shame behind a pair of glasses, Hill does introspection well, coming out of himself to let rip within a toilet cubicle before gathering his composure once more for the world at large. And Franco's coolly self-aware charm throws us off the scent of a genial-seeming man who couldn't possibly be a murderer – or could he? Felicity Jones (pictured above), ace American accent in tow, pops up now and again as Hill's girlfriend, who develops a fascination of her own with Longo that filmgoers may just have to take on faith. The truth in this case has inevitably been fictionalised, leaving the story struggling to stir the soul.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for True Story 

Franco's coolly self-aware charm throws us off the scent of a genial-seeming man who couldn't possibly be a murderer – or could he?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters