Review: True Story

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

This review originally ran as part of our Sundance 2015 coverage.

PLOT: Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) – a disgraced journalist – sees an opportunity to get his career back on track when an accused murderer, Christian Longo (James Franco) is captured while posing as Finkel, and later agrees to a series of jailhouse interviews.

REVIEW: TRUE STORY is an interesting change-of-pace for star Jonah Hill. While he's dabbled in drama before with two supporting actor Oscar nominations to show for it, this marks the first time he's headlined this kind of movie, which casts him as a morally ambiguous journalist exploiting a heinous crime as a way of getting his career back on track. While the movie itself is ultimately conventional, it's still a sturdy character study and Hill rises to the occasion.

It's amazing how quiet a performance he gives, with him underplaying many of his scenes and allowing co-star James Franco to have the really juicy part, as killer Christian Longo – a man who inexplicably murdered his entire family. Yet, this is clearly Hill's show, with him virtually never off-screen save for a handful of scenes. He actually makes for a relatively convincing journalist, with an early scene involving the interview of a refugee clearly depicting his moral flexibility, with him bribing people to talk to him and not checking his facts lest they get in the way of a good story. One trap a lot of comedic actors dabbling in drama fall into is that they often try to compensate for the new territory by playing things big. Hill never succumbs to that temptation, playing everything but the climax in a very subtle way that's extremely effective.

It's strange seeing Hill here with Franco, with them having done THIS IS THE END together, but truth be told, that movie never came into my mind once while watching this, which is high praise all things considered. This is Franco's second really effective performance at this year's Sundance, and like Hill he tries to underplay the part somewhat, keeping him ambiguous enough that you're not sure who's exploiting who.

These performances, coupled with the premise make TRUE STORY a compelling watch even if it's never really exceptional, but just solid instead. This is director Rupert Goold's first feature and he does a sturdy job, even if certain elements come off as clichė, such as the two climactic confrontations with Longo that likely aim to end the film on a triumphant note even if the text screens at the end suggest a far more unconventional (and interesting) outcome. Felicity Jones, coming off THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, also feels somewhat wasted as Hill's wife, as Finkel's home life feels short-shifted a bit to keep the focus on his dynamic with Longo. It's probably the right choice, but Jones deserves something more substantial.

While it's not a top-tier, Academy-worthy film, TRUE STORY is still an effective interesting true-crime tale. It's not among the top-tier Sundance films I've seen this year, but it's solidly middle-of-the-road and perfectly satisfying for what it is. It'll likely get a good commercial release later this year (by Fox Searchlight) and it's definitely worth checking out.

True Story



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.