True Story

The title says it, or maybe not. Is it a true story when itís relayed by a narcissistic sociopath? Even if he looks convincing? This movie tells the mainly correct story Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a former New York Times reporter who is discredited when it is discovered that a story about boys subjected to slavery in Mali actually includes a composite story about composite characters. Exiled to his home and girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones) in Montana, Finkel is contacted by an arrested murderer, Christian Longo (James Franco), who has also used the identity of Finkel and has followed his career. Longo wants Finkel to write a book about him, an exclusive about a guy who apparently has murdered his wife and 3 kids. While Longo awaits trial, Finkel interviews him, receives rambling, illustrated letters from him and attempts to figure out for himself whether Longo, a seemingly benign character, could have committed these awful acts.

As the story develops, Finkel is being mentally seduced by Longo, is not sure whether to believe the accusations against him and is allowing Longo to virtually write Finkelís book. Itís not clear what Longo has to gain from this since the case against him seems strong and public sympathy is zero. It seems as though Longo just enjoys being able to twist people. You never know what Longo is thinking because every move seems to be aimed at manipulating somebody. As trial approaches, Longo is manipulating the plea process, in order to manipulate judge, jury and lawyers too. As they say, the rest is history. If you want to know how this ends, you can read the actual story.

True Story is the first full length feature film by British director Rupert Goold, was also written by Goold and Finkel. Jonah Hill has been looking for a venue where he can play a dramatic role and he got it in this movie. Finkel is somewhat of a dubious character himself, having been busted for manipulating his NYT story and now being dragged into a multiple homicide, refusing to cooperate with prosecutors so he can write his bookÖ.he doesnít look all that good himself, although heís an angel compared to Longo. Hill does a good job of portraying this self-interested character, giving him a psychological weakness that gives Finkelís slippery relationship with truth believability. James Franco is also excellent. He uses his charm to make you think that some of what he says might be true or at least that the official story might not be complete. Jill, Finkelís girlfriend, has a relatively secondary role, as the partner who begins to realize that Finkel is slipping down some sort of rabbit hole of untruth.

True Story is a quiet film, with no action. Some might find it slow, but I thought to be insidiously methodical, leading the viewer to slip down the same path into not knowing just what to believe about Longo. That is what narcissistic, sociopathic people DO, convince you that they are being misjudged. Much of this film is done in fairly hard close-ups. In many scenes, you can see the pores in the actorsí skin, lighting is muted, but the detail is all there. Thereís little action aside from some not-so-good flashbacks of the murders. The musical soundtrack is fairly minimal and includes etherial church music by Carlo Gesualdo, a Spanish renaissance composer who was also a family murderer. Critics are mixed on this one but I thought it was quite good. It conveyed the vagueness of the concept of truth that accompanies characters like Longo. Itís tense, detailed and while some might find it slow, I appreciated how the plot and characters developed. Itís not light entertainment, but itís an excellent dramatic story.