Kevin Hart’s movie career peaked back in 2014 with the release of Get Hard. Since then, the actor has had a few duds, like Ride Along, but he’s rebounded with the latest installment of the Angry Birds franchise, Hotel Transylvania 3, and the upcoming crime drama True Story with Jonah Hill.
Hart plays Michael Finkel, an unreliable source of Michael Douglas’ unreliable reporter in a crime thriller that has its roots in the 2002 Brian Koppelman and David Levien play. Finkel went to work for The New York Times, where he was hired by the paper’s toughest-guy-in-the-business, Jim Bretz (James Franco). Finkel then began working for Bretz’ rival, prison photographer Mike Kover (Jonah Hill), a divorcee who quit being a “gangster” when his camera lens turned him into a bounty hunter.
The thriller is a 90-minute whodunit, but Finkel’s partner is murdered in the course of this investigation. Finkel sets off in search of Bretz’s murderer, while trying to fend off his need to become his own power-hungry journalist.
On top of Finkel’s cynicism, he also has a battered past: As a child, his father cut him from a skinning post during a car accident. Later, he lied about the incident to avoid realizing the death of the victim and later, killed himself after coming clean.
True Story, written by David Auburn and directed by Rupert Wyatt, is a surprisingly low-key thriller. Wyatt, best known for the action movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, did a good job of keeping the tension simmering throughout, as if the cameras were rolling everywhere.
Finkel, who seems both wounded and angry throughout the film, is a more sensitive character than usual, with a tendency to lapse into panic attacks and lapses into self-deprecation. “I wish I was a well-done drunk” Finkel says as he expresses regret over having a drinking problem.
Hart, on the other hand, is saddled with an unlikable portrayal that’s overwrought and overdone. (Curb your enthusiasm, given Hart’s penchant for overacting.) True Story never feels like a coherent feature that has achieved a satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, it is one of the actor’s strongest outings in years, and it doesn’t hurt that True Story is an otherwise crowd-pleasing piece of entertainment.