Synopsis: When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo-who has taken on Finkel’s identity-his reporting job morphs into an unforgettable game of cat and mouse. Based on actual events, Finkel’s relentless pursuit of Longo’s true story encompasses murder, love, deceit, and redemption.
Release Date: April 17, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Mystery
True Story is a movie about two men. One of them is Michael Finkel (21 Jump Street‘s Jonah Hill), a disgraced former New York Times reporter who was fired for embellishing the details of a major story. The other is Christian Longo (James Franco from 127 Hours), a suspected murderer who is hiding out in Cancun using Finkel’s name as an alias. Longo is arrested, and Finkel goes to see him with the intent of writing a book about him. In exchange for his interviews, Longo asks Finkel to teach him how to write, and shares dozens of notebooks full of words, drawings, and flipbooks with the reporter. As the interviews/writing workshops go on, Finkel begins to believe that Longo is innocent, but Longo is a master manipulator. It’s up to Finkel to determine how much of the truth Longo has told him.
As the title suggests, True Story is a true story. Writer/director Rupert Goold (“The Hollow Crown”) adapted the script for the big screen from the book True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel, the very book that he wrote about the Christian Longo case. The film is a very different kind of crime drama; much of the film takes place inside a jailhouse visitation room as opposed to on the mean city streets or in a comfortable courtroom, and it’s a lot of discussion and conversation. The exposition is fleshed out through the interviews themselves, with the audience given the task, along with Finkel, of determining truths from lies. That may sound dry, but True Story is actually an incredibly engrossing film. There’s just more thinking to it than fighting.
True Story is, at its base, a character study of two men: an inveterate liar, and the man who desperately wants to believe him. It’s also a murder mystery, but that takes a backseat because, well, the investigation isn’t nearly as interesting as the relationship between the suspect and the reporter. True Story is not non-stop action, or even a little action, but it is riveting nonetheless. It’s a well put-together film that may be a bit predictable, but its aim is to focus more on the journey than on the destination.
One of the more successful devices that Rupert Goold employs in True Story is his penchant for not showing everything to the audience. Longo is suspected of killing his wife and three children, and the film flashes back to the murders and investigations quite frequently. Goold will use slick editing and sound effects to pique the audience’s curiosity, but not actually show them what they want to see. For example, in one scene that flashes back to the murders, the audience will hear the tell-tale splash of a body falling into a harbor. Everyone knows what’s happened, but the details are not shown onscreen. In another flashback scene, a suitcase is pulled up out of the water, and the viewer knows exactly what’s in it, but the camera cuts to a shot of the investigators’ faces as it is opened. The audience’s imagination fills in the gaps, even if they’re wrong about the facts. It’s an ingenious way of leading the viewer without actually leading the viewer, and Rupert Goold does it masterfully.
By now, James Franco and Jonah Hill have worked together so frequently and know each other well enough that they have developed a certain chemistry, and that chemistry is on full display in True Story. James Franco is at his usual best as the crafty suspected sociopath Christian Longo, fooling the audience into believing every word his character says – he is completely convincing, even when it is known that his character is a habitual liar. Jonah Hill is surprisingly great in the non-comedic role of Michael Finkel, the disgraced journalist whose vulnerability makes him easy prey for Longo and his lies. Separately, both actors pull their weight, but when they’re onscreen together, they deliver cinematic gold. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) gets into the act a bit as Michael Finkel’s wife, Jill, and she is fantastic in her limited screen time, too. True Story is a heavily character-based film, and the principal cast brings each of those characters to brilliant life.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Rupert Goold
- Producer(s): Dede GardnerAnthony KatagasJeremy Kleiner
- Screenwriter(s): Rupert GooldDavid Kajganich
- Story: Michael Finkel
- Cast: James FrancoJonah HillFelicity Jones
- Editor(s): Nicolas De Toth
- Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
- Casting Director(s): Douglas Aibel
- Music Score: Marco Beltrami
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA