True Story

Jonah Hill is the main reason to see this two-handed drama about a disgraced journalist lured into writing a book about a child murderer on Death Row.

James Franco, who plays the prisoner, is the main reason not to see it.

Hill is continuing his strong run of supporting form from films such as Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street, now taking on a lead role where his schlubby presence is the chief attraction.

He’s the kind of sweaty, ordinary leading man we haven’t seen since the 70s, a sort of Elliot Gould- George Segal type as opposed to the clean poster boys of so much current American cinema.

Playing journo Mike Finkel, sacked from the New York Times for conflating characters in a story on African slavery, Hill brings an edgy, desperate urgency to his performance as he’s twisted every which way by Christian Longo, Franco’s smart-arse psycho.

Felicity Jones has an extremely thankless task as Finkel’s wife Jill. The best that can be said it that she too achieves a pleasing new look, a kind of fetching Karen Allen style that could stand her in good stead as she tries out different American movies.

Director Rupert Goold makes his feature debut after years as London theatre’s golden boy and current artistic director of Islington’s Almeida Theatre. Much of the pacing is too stagey, and the edit appears to have flummoxed him however,  I’m inclined to blame the film’s failure on Franco’s performance, which is smug, flat and uninteresting from the start. Even his wispily wimpy attempt at a beard annoyed me.

It’s a film supposedly about layers of truth and justice but, despite a nicely washed-out 70s look (it was shot on film) by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, it never achieves the paranoia and claustrophobia it’s going for in its to and fro of identity.