Stars James Franco and Jonah Hill
Directed by Robert Goold, based on Michael Finkel’s Memoir
Rating 2.5 / 5
The story behind True Story certainly has the makings of a nifty psychological thriller – a gruesome real life crime, a compelling no-good leading man, a weak and susceptible second and the dark co-dependent union they forge. Instead True Story is inert, a flat lifeless facsimile of a psychological thriller.
It’s based on the story of Christian Longo (Franco) who murdered his wife and children in Oregon in 2001 and went on the lam to Mexico. His manipulative, narcissistic personality had been spreading its poison for years, even as he appeared to be leading a “normal” life. Once Longo disposed of his family’s bodies he started a new life.
His first step was adopting the identity of New York Times investigative reporter Michael Finkel (Hill) whose worked he admired. The ruse was successful; men and women were dazzled by his “celebrity” and he made waves with false modesty and took an impressed woman to bed. But he also drew attention to himself and it wasn’t long before his fresh start was over – police nabbed him and returned him to Oregon to face trial for three murders.
Meanwhile in New York, Finkel’s journalistic integrity was under scrutiny. He was fudging facts in his stories. In the film, his editor grills him but Finkel doesn’t “get” why fudging is unacceptable and he dismisses the gravity of his deceit and the damage he did to the newspaper. He defends himself and he’s summarily fired. Because of his high profile as a respected seeker of the truth, Finkel’s dismissal made international headlines.
He scrambles to find stories big enough to convince other outlets to hire him, but no media, colleagues or friends in the business will take his calls. Looks like it’s over but he’s not taking it lying down.
Back at home in Oregon, Finkel’s surprised when a local reporter looks him up. He doesn’t want to talk about the firing; he wants his reaction to news that a man arrested for triple murder in Mexico was using Finkel’s identity.
Imagine the peculiar sensation that would raise. Finkel’s initial confusion and anger are softened by the realisation that this wild turn of events could lead to a story people would want to read, something he could sell. He arranges a jailhouse face to face with Longo.
Finkel’s confident that he can dominate their conversation because, after all, he is a big shot reporter form the big city. But he’s unprepared for the sheer force of Longo’s personality; he’s narcissistic, egomaniacal and manipulative and Finkel’s fascinated.
Longo admits to stealing his identity, and oh, would he like to write an article on him? Now that’s something Finkel can sell. He knows he’s out of his element but can’t help himself because he is not just desperate for a gig, he’s also enthralled by this slippery human being.
This is where things could have been really interesting if it weren’t for the film’s inexplicable powerlessness. It seems unable to grapple with the Greek tragedy of it all and redefine narcissist for the 2000s. So the movie and Finkel are the same, inert and outdone.
There is little connection with the characters, a cool remove and a lack of empathy. Our feelings are limited to disgust and awe, and there is no investment in the outcome as crazy as the tale is.
There’s no context, no attempt to shed light on what made them the way they were and that’s a shame. They are the story, it’s their dance. and we’d like to know why they chose this song because otherwise it just doesn’t ring true.