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Movie Night – 'True Story' offers drama in purest sense of word (April 22, 2015 issue)

“True Story” is one of the more obscure and more intriguing of the recent releases in theaters. Based upon the non-fiction book of the same name, the movie chronicles the story of accused murderer Christian Longo and disgraced journalist Michael Finkel.
Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is a hot-shot reporter for “The New York Times.” He travels the planet to find his stories, the kind that may lead to a Pulitzer Prize, not to mention glory and fame. Finkel’s world comes to an abrupt halt when the facts behind his most recent article are challenged. After admitting that everything in his story was not 100% true, that the atrocities he wrote about happened to several African boys rather than one, Finkel is summarily fired. He retreats to his home and his wife, Jill (Felicity Jones), in western Montana.
When we first meet Christian Longo (James Franco) he is in a Catholic Church in Mexico. When he approaches a young German tourist he tells her his name is Michael Finkel, that he’s a writer for “The New York Times.” In fact, Longo is on the run from authorities in Oregon where he is wanted for the murder of his wife and three children. When Longo is arrested in Mexico he likewise tells the police that his name is Michael Finkel, even though they know better.
The real Michael Finkel has never heard of Christian Longo until a local Oregon reporter calls him for a comment on the fact that an accused killer was using Finkel’s identity. Intrigued, Finkel meets with the reporter and eventually visits Longo in jail where he is awaiting trial for the murders.
Finkel becomes consumed with the case. His curiosity about the mystery that is Christian Longo is mixed with the knowledge that this could be the story that brings him back to the publishing world and makes him relevant again. Thus begins the cat and mouse game between Finkel and Longo. Finkel wants not only the story from Longo, but also the truth. Longo wants…well, it’s difficult to say what Longo wants. Is he protecting someone else who committed the murders? Does he really want Finkel to tell his story? Does he ever intend to tell anyone the truth about what happened on that fateful night?
“True Story” is a drama in the purest sense of the word. Each scene was carefully shot and carefully framed to squeeze every bit of drama out of the story. There are no action scenes, no romance or laughter. It’s a serious drama for serious moviegoers. That being said, the movie is suspenseful, eerie, and very good.
The movie is mainly about the relationship between Finkel and Longo. Jonah Hill and James Franco play their parts as well as they could be played. While you have likely never seen Hill in such a serious role, he plays Finkel with the perfect combination of disgrace, curiosity, and ambition. For his part, Franco is just plain creepy as Christian Longo. The character alternates between (feigned?) innocence to a sense of barely controlled menace.
“True Story” is somewhat reminiscent of the 1996 movie “Primal Fear.” Both have a somewhat naïve man accused of committing terrible atrocities. Both have a champion, someone to hear their story and tell the world. Finally, both “True Story” and “Primal Fear” will keep you guessing until the end.
Even if all of the questions that the movie raises aren’t answered, it’s still one heck of a story with enough tension thrown in to keep you glued to the screen until it’s over. Besides, in life, when do you ever have all of the answers?
Grade: A-
Rated R for language and some disturbing material.