True Story (2015)

True Story (2015)
  • Time: 100 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Rupert Goold
  • Cast: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones


Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkel, a recently terminated New York Times journalist who’s struggling for work after a story gone wrong. One day, he receives a phone call from a man regarding an FBI Most Wanted individual named Christian Longo, who’s been captured and claimed to be living as Finkel. Longo and Finkel meet and form a potentially marriage shattering bond while Longo is in prison awaiting his trial. Finkel exchanges journalism tips for the real events behind Longo’s alleged heinous acts of murdering his family. Through the twists and turns in the movie, only at the end will Finkel uncover the True Story.

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  • In a business built on the concept of inviolable truths, a story still needs to sell. So do you tell a truth which may be unpalatable or a truth the people want to hear? True Story aims for the former, bur winds up embracing the latter.

    When we first meet Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), he is in the midst of disgrace. Fired from The New York Times for manipulating the facts in an article about African child slavery, the reporter is living out his exile in Montana with his university archivist girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones). He spends his days unsuccessfully pitching ideas to other publications until, one day, he receives a surprising call from local reporter Pat Frato (Ethan Suplee) requesting a comment about recently captured fugitive Christian Longo (James Franco).

    Longo, it turns out, is a man accused of murdering his wife and three children, stuffing their bodies into suitcases, and then dumping those suitcases in the river. Using Finkel’s name whilst on the run, Longo was finally apprehended in Mexico. Intrigued by the possible scoop, Finkel requests a jailhouse meeting with the mild-mannered Longo, an aspiring writer who confesses his admiration for the shamed writer’s work. Finkel notes their intertwined circumstances, remarking that he has been through a trial of his own. Half-joking that “maybe you could tell me what it’s like to be me,” Finkel strikes up a deal with Longo: Longo will grant him exclusive access to his story on two conditions – that the story will not be published until after the trial, and that Finkel will give him writing lessons. The two men draw closer and closer as Finkel attempts to pin down the truth from Longo, who implies that he may be both innocent and guilty of his alleged crimes.

    Based on Finkel’s memoir True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, the film is essentially a two-hander between Hill and Franco. Two-handers can be a tricky affair – it implies an intimacy both in performance and setting that could easily lapse into stasis. Director Rupert Goold, a well-regarded theater director making his feature film debut, manages to make the confined spaces feel expansive rather than claustrophobic. He keeps the visual flourishes and narrative details to the bare minimum, preferring to focus on the gradually shifting dynamics between his two protagonists.

    For viewers, watching a two-hander can offer potential excitement. Think of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking, or Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. It’s a duel, a prizefight, with both participants circling and challenging one another. For Finkel and Longo, both are searching for vulnerabilities they can exploit, weakening facades whilst shoring up their own defenses. Remember that this film may be about telling the truth but, despite Finkel’s counsel, it is very much how one presents the telling of the truth.

    It should feel dangerous, their exchanges, and whilst there is tension in many of their interactions, the emotional jeopardy isn’t completely palpable. The pawing feels too tame, the scratching never draws blood. Compare that with the two scenes – one via phone call, the other face-to-face – between Longo and Jill. Both scenes crackle with menace and power and leave you disturbed. Both moments also validate the presence of Felicity Jones who, despite her limited involvement, nevertheless is True Story’s shining star.

    What to make of Franco’s portrayal? On the one hand, he appears to be conveying the proper emotions. There are individual scenes where one could even call him good but, on the whole, Franco never fully convinces as either a man wrongly imprisoned or a manipulative con man. It still surprises how, over the last couple of years, Hill has established himself as an actor of great depth and versatility. He far outclasses and outacts Franco, delivering a persuasive performance of a man who looks into the face of evil to understand his own actions, but who also understands how to make profit off his own redemption.

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