FilmReview

Review: ‘True Story’ Offers a Complex Portrait of Truth

Ellie Wells ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor

Jonah Hill and James Franco in True Story. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Jonah Hill and James Franco in True Story. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In early 2002, Christian Longo was apprehended in Cancun, Mexico, charged with the murders of his wife and four children. He said his name was Mike Finkel, a former reporter for the New York Times who had been fired for fabricating a story. Over the next year, Finkel would visit Longo in jail, and eventually compiled his experiences into True Story, a memoir that would become the basis of the film.

It’s a flawed yet solid piece of art, one that takes you on a twisted ride and leaves you with a lot to think about, especially in regards to the media. It’s beautifully shot and has a strong atmosphere, especially after Finkel leaves New York for rural Montana.

The performances are strong, especially among the two leads. Finkel and Longo are portrayed by Jonah Hill and James Franco, respectively. It’s a strange pairing on paper considering they previously collaborated in This is the End, but it works admirably well. Hill, still known primarily as a comedic actor, has had successful dramatic turns in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street for which he earned Oscar nominations. However, those were supporting parts, and here he proves to be a compelling lead. Franco, who played a similar role in 2013’s Palo Alto, is in his element here which makes for a compelling onscreen chemistry with Hill.

As Longo changes his story several times throughout the film, it can be frustrating at times to follow. Yet this feels intentional, raising ideas of just how much the media can influence us and what we feel to be the truth. Because of this, the film never becomes boring.

Jonah Hill and James Franco in True Story. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Jonah Hill and James Franco in True Story. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Still, there are other more basic, frustrating flaws, such as the use of iPhones and MacBooks in a film set in 2002. The timeline and some of the transitions are unclear, and Felicity Jones is criminally underused as Finkel’s emotionally distant girlfriend. The film seeds a plot thread relatively early on in regards to Jones which it then abandons. This leads the viewer to believe she’s going to play a larger role in the film than she ends up playing.  She mainly exists to stand around, look pretty, and support her man.

Still, True Story is worth your time. It will leave you with a lot to think about, especially with Longo and Finkel’s final confrontation. It may not be as complex as last year’s Gone Girl, which touched upon many similar themes, yet it’s riveting and thought provoking, and will at very least compel you to seek out the true story behind the film.

Overall Grade: B+ 

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