True Story

“True Story,” much like the true story it recreates, begins better than it ends, with tantalizing details that suggest a more satisfying tale than is actually in store. Based on journalist Michael Finkel’s memoir, the film opens with a succession of seemingly unrelated threads: a young girl’s dead body in a suitcase; a doughy reporter (Jonah Hill) covering a news story in Africa; a scruffy American (James Franco) hooking up with a tourist in Mexico. Both men claim to be named Mike Finkel. The scruffy one is arrested and charged with four heinous murders that he says he’s not guilty of; the doughy one wants to tell his story (and find out why the accused was using his name).

First-time director Rupert Goold, who adapted Finkel’s book with David Kajganich, draws parallels between the men’s lives, ranging from the intriguing (both are persuasive but somewhat truth-challenged) to the mundane (both handwrite in block letters). Is the journalist being suckered by a killer? Or is the supposed killer’s far-fetched claim of innocence actually true? “Sometimes the truth isn’t believable,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it’s not true.” No argument there. But baby-faced Jonah Hill isn’t believable as a tough journalist, and prankster James Franco seems unsure how seriously to play his character. Moreover, when all is eventually revealed, it has a disappointing “Is that it?” air to it. Such a well-told story (and it certainly holds your attention as it unfolds) ought to add up to more than this one does.

B- (1 hr., 40 min.; R, a handful of F-words, brief disturbing images.)