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Movie Review of the Week – “True Story”

Movie Review of the Week – “True Story”
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By Alison Bailes

With a title like “True Story”, it’s a sure bet that the filmmakers are going to play with notions of truth and storytelling. The very title prompts us to question everything we see on screen in this thorny examination of male ego and psyche.

Adapted from a memoir of the same name by disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel, “True Story” concerns itself with two men, both infamous, both trying to redeem themselves in the public eye. Finkel (played by a very good Jonah Hill) has recently been fired for conflating details in a NYT magazine article and is desperate for a second chance. His ego is wounded and he cravenly needs affirmation by his peers. This prompts him to contact Christian Longo (James Franco), a man on trial for the gruesome murder of his wife and three young children. Before arrest, Longo was on the lam in Mexico, claiming to be none other than Michael Finkel of the New York Times.

Intrigued and flattered, Finkel sees the makings of a story that will put him back on the map. Longo, for his part, wants a spin master, someone to tell his side of the story the way he wants it told.  The two men embark on a tortuous journey of thrusts and parries. Meeting in a prison visiting room, Finkel coaxes Longo to tell him the truth about what really happened. Longo toys with Finkel like a cat with a ball of wool. Franco’s performance is so layered that it’s impossible not to get carried away like Finkel. At one point, the camera lingers on Franco’s face when Longo is asked “did you do it?” Pure evil passes across his eyes which then crinkle up into misunderstood pain. Did Longo do these dreadful things or could he possibly be innocent? We want to join Finkel in believing that this complex, intriguing man is not capable of murder.

Truth, or our understanding of the truth, is turned upside down when Longo takes the stand in his own defense and again Franco’s delivery is chilling.  British theatre director Rupert Goold knows how to hold a shot for maximum effect and he also uses flashbacks to the murders judiciously throughout the story. The fact that Hill and Franco are off-screen buddies and co-stars in goofy stoner comedies never crossed my mind as I watched their dangerous dance of intimacy unfold.

While the film is based on real events, that doesn’t mean that what we are seeing really happened. Can a film, or piece of writing or art ever really replicate the truth? When human frailty is involved, things get complicated and this challenging movie is interested less in the facts of the events, than in their implications and illuminations about human nature.

 

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