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True Story (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

True Story

True Story


Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke, Maria Dizzia, Genevieve Angelson, Betty Gilpin, Joel Marsh Garland, John Sharian, Dana Eskelson, Auden Thornton, Robert Stanton and Rebecca Henderson.

Screenplay by Rupert Goold and David Kajganich.

Directed by Rupert Goold.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  100 minutes.  Rated R.

True Story is indeed based upon a true story.  A fairly well known one at that.  However, truth is that the actual story was a lot more interesting than the film that tells it.

It is a story of a disgraced reporter seeking salvation and a man who is apparently a heartless child murderer and an odd bond that they somehow formed.

Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkel, a rising New York Times reporter around the turn of the millennium.  He was a hot shot new guy, getting a series of eye-catching stories that had him thinking Pulitzer.  However, in a story about a group of African children being used as slave labor, Finkel let his ambitions overwhelm his journalistic integrity, creating a composite character out of interviews with several boys.  What they said was true technically, but it was also a lie because he attributed the stories incorrectly to a single person, which he felt made it seem more dramatic.

He was fired immediately.

He returned home to his native Montana to lick his wounds and try to salvage his career.  He also had the opportunity to reconnect with his wife (Felicity Jones), who had stayed behind while he traveled the world.

One day Finkel received a call explaining that a local man named Christian Longo (James Franco), who had been on the lam because he was the main suspect in the murder of his wife and children, had been caught in Mexico.  Finkel was not sure why this concerned him, until he found out that Longo had identified himself as Michael Finkel from The New York Times.

Finkel visited Longo in prison to find out why he was using his identity.  Longo claimed to be a fan of Finkel’s work and made an offer: he would give Finkel an exclusive and comprehensive interview and in exchange he wanted Finkel to help him to find a way to prove himself innocent.

Finkel saw the story as an opportunity to save his career, so he agreed to the deal, without really considering the possibility that the man may indeed be guilty.  Thus started a devil’s bargain in which Longo played mind games with the reporter and his wife, and Finkel became more and more certain that the man he had been banking his hopes on might be a lying murderer.

It’s a fascinating story from both a philosophical and a practical standpoint, but the direction by Rupert Goold is dry and does not do the conundrum much justice.  Franco does a fine job of making Longo a disturbing presence, but you never really believe his claims of innocence.  And Hill, a fine dramatic actor, unfortunately does not convey the feeling that Finkel recognizes his culpability in his own actions until it is too late.  Jones, on the heels of her Oscar-nominated work in The Theory of Everything, is not given nearly enough to do here, though she does have one corker of a monologue upon her one visit to see Longo in prison.

However, in the long run, True Story does not do its true story justice.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: April 17, 2015.

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