Synopsis – When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo – who has taken on Finkel’s identity – his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse.
My Take – This film is based on a true story, depicting the interactions between Christian Longo, a man convicted for killing his wife & three children & Michael Finkel, a disgraced New York Times reporter. This psychological drama/thriller is about deception involving characters that fabricate the truth to incredible lengths and spin endless webs of lies. One character to a lesser extent to the other, but I found it interesting how this film portrayed the similarities between these two men. The story is brilliantly woven, and extreme attention to detail is paid. Right from the trailers, I knew I wanted to check this film out & of course the very likable cast of Oscar Nominees Jonah Hill & Felicity Jones as well as the very talented James Franco is a plus point. The general complaints I read in the critical reviews were that the film lacked suspense, and that it was a whole lot of buildup with no payoff. The no payoff criticism concerned me the most, as I can’t stand movies like that, and that criticism seemed to be the biggest people were making. Yet, personally I was riveted and in constant psychological suspense, but there isn’t any real physical suspense throughout the film. The suspense comes from a psychological place, falling victim to the constant mind games, and not knowing what the truth really is. And as for the biggest criticism, that there wasn’t any payoff, I couldn’t disagree more. But considering the details of the true events, there isn’t any more payoff that could have been provided, In fact, I felt the payoff of this film to be big. It was a psychologically riveting experience that provided a lot to think about long after the end credits rolled. The story follows, Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), The New York Times journalist who is subsequently terminated by the paper after being accused of incomplete research and creating a composite character, a boy named Youssouf Male while covering a story in an article about Ivory Coast Cocoa Plantations. While residing in the middle of nowhere with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones), Finkel struggles to find journalistic job opportunities until one day he receives a mysterious phone call from a local writer Pat (Ethan Suplee) regarding an FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation Most Wanted individual named Christian Longo (James Franco), who was wanted for murdering his entire family & eventually ended up getting captured in Mexico while claiming to be living as Finkel.
Finkel decides this is an opportunity story of a life time, so he meets with Longo trying to figure out why his now tarnished journalistic name was used by this accused murderer. Michael travels to prison to meet and talk with Christian, who he is stunned to find is a soft-spoken, frightened soul with a story to tell of his own. After learning of Christian’s own personal perspective of the murders, Michael begins to write a book on him, finding himself caught between a wedge of believing Christian’s story but also looking at indisputable facts of the case. At first it may seem odd to see both Jonah Hill and James Franco in a film together and not creating a raunchy, hilarious atmosphere. While both men have ventured into drama before (especially Franco, who I have become a fan of recently is possibly the most diverse actor in Hollywood), having these two men work together and not drum up any laughs is a strange thing to note. However, this fact becomes less apparent when we remember, and it only takes moments to do so once the film begins, how great Hill and Franco are at playing complex, layered dramatic roles. Hill’s straight-forward seriousness combined with Franco’s mannered eloquence creates a story that works from the start on the basis of actor chemistry and effectiveness alone. The film subtly answers the questions of truth and examines how perspective and stories, when told rather than pushed aside or muted, do not justify an entire situation, especially one so heinous, but work to complicate it and leave no questions easily answered. We become just as entangled as Michael, and when the film ends, ostensibly without progressing a whole lot, we find ourselves left to our own vices in terms of how we analyze what we just watched. With its obvious hints at various brilliantly made psychological thrillers the film brandishes an inspiring series of back-and-forth battles of wits and wills. It scrutinizes the morality of bringing attention to those with ghastly stories that, debateably, shouldn’t be publicized; the wrong turns in life that might have influenced heinous acts (the successes and the failures); and the strategies behind betraying guilt and innocence. Just as much as it digs into the mind of a killer, it inspects the processes of the interrogator – here, a man simultaneously benefiting from the publicity and being manipulated by his detained subject. There are times the film comes off as little more than a made for TV movie, but the best moments more than make up for it, and Franco’s portrayal will stick with you long after Finkel finally understands who and what he is dealing with. It’s also a reminder that there are people who “want the truth so badly” they “will lie to get it”. Try saying that with a wink. Oh yes! Jonah Hill and James Franco are best known for their raunchy and raucous comedies, and both deliver much calmer & quieter performances than what we have come to expect from them.
While it’s a bit of stretch to buy Jonah Hill as a renowned writer, even though its pretty obvious he is pouring his soul in the performance, yet its Franco who is absolutely chilling as a manipulative psychopath. Franco is so good in the role that he overpowers Hill, which undermines what was supposed to be an intricate game of cat and mouse. Franco is a frightening figure on the courtroom witness stand as he tells his version of that fateful night, and he is equally unnerving to watch in general conversation with Finkel. However, the single best scene in the film comes when Felicity Jones unleashes the wrath of truth on Franco’s Longo. Ms. Jones is otherwise underutilized for most of the film, as her relationship with Finkel is never really explored. Nevertheless she is likable as always. On the whole, ‘True Story’, is destined to be one of the most underrated and misunderstood pictures of the year, and the latter because of the fact that there are going to be quite some perception of ways one can digest this film. With mind games at its best & a mesmerizing script, the film has several twists and turns which will keep you interested. It was cool to see both Hill and Franco play roles no one would ever think they would take on. Do give this watch, if you are in a mood for something very unusual, yet interesting and visually stimulating or should I say a fresh break from Blockbusters films.
Director – Rupert Goold
Rated – R
Run Time – 99 minutes