'True Story': What the Critics Are Saying
Jonah Hill stars as a disgraced journalist who's identity has been stolen by a man (James Franco) accused of killing his wife and children in this suspenseful thriller.
Jonah Hill stars as disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel who meets Christian Longo (James Franco), a man who has stolen his identity and is awaiting trial for the murder of his wife and children. The film is based on Finkel's memoir and marks the feature-directorial debut of renowned stage director Rupert Goold. Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol, and Ethan Suplee also star.
Read what top critics are saying about True Story:
The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore says the focus is on Hill and Franco, “their increasing but precarious intimacy recalls the courtship at the heart of Capote without ever approaching its dramatic mixture of empathy and self-interested manipulation.” The “performances are unlikely to attract enough critical praise to draw out older moviegoers who've grown wary of the sometimes brilliant, sometimes blundering Franco.”
Director Goold’s “work never feels stagey; a smart and varied visual sense opens up even settings as basic as a jail's visiting room. But what happens in that room isn't as convincing as might be expected from these actors. With heavy eyelids and resigned sighs, Franco ... projects neither the urgency of the wrongly accused nor the slipperiness of a con man. Hill's Finkel talks a good game," but "his eyes don't reveal the smarts of a man capable of plying reluctant interviewees.”
Two scenes between Franco and Jones “may be based on real events, but they play like the inventions of filmmakers hoping both to introduce a hint of menace and to give a talented actress something to do beyond playing piano and taking baths while her husband ignores her in his study." The audience is left with the impression that most of the other characters “understand Longo better than the man hired to write his story” and the film “suggests that Finkel doesn't know himself all that well either.”
Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls it “a case of a well-crafted film, made by a first-time feature director with an impressive theatrical pedigree, that nonetheless struggles to locate the reasons for telling its story." Franco is “shifty of eye and subtle of sleaze” but “even with shrewd and honest work by Franco and Hill" the "film comes to life only sporadically.” The character’s “sort-of-friendship remains less a mystery than a blank.”
The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman notes if the plot "sounds like red meat for philosophers and ethicists at the movies, it certainly is. It doesn’t, unfortunately, make for crackling cinema." Goold has a “cold touch. No one in the film is particularly likeable, and while the global implications about epistemology are interesting, the specifics of this particular case, at least rendered here, are quite dull." The casting of Franco makes “matters even worse” and “during his big, allegedly chilling witness stand monologue, I found myself unable to listen to the content of his words, as I was too distracted by the mawkishly simian faces he was making to punctuate each passage." This “is a film with split personality. The important themes below the surface come out in impressionistic waves. The actual story, with its occasionally cringe-worthy, on-the-nose dialogue, comes very close to exposing the entire production as a lie."
USA Today's Claudia Puig describes it as a "dispassionate crime tale." Scenes "between Hill and Franco don't elicit the requisite queasy tension" and "the story might have been better served with less recognizable actors in the key roles. Both have established themselves as strong dramatic actors. But Hill and Franco also starred in the raucous 2013 stoner comedy This is the End, and at times their amiable low-key interactions here seem about to drift over into a buddy comedy." The film is "an intrinsically fascinating and occasionally riveting tale marred by unnecessary embellishments."
New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier labels the film “a prisoner of its own dull storytelling.” Goold “doesn’t allow us access to Longo’s motive” and Hill’s relationship with Jones “comes off as neutered,” and “she feels like a remote afterthought.” The movie “has a classic duality at its center, but what’s around the edges is deadly dull.”