Movie review: 'True Story'


4 out of 5 stars

True crime is wicked hot right now. The water-cooler talk revolving around works like Serial and The Jinx have been absolute fire lately (and for well-deserved reasons). With True Story, the very definition of “true crime” itself is put under the microscope, as Jonah Hill and James Franco both play against type and play against one another. Around the 30 minute mark of Rupert Goold’s film, it really sinks in how genuinely disturbing it is to watch the stars of Pineapple Express play such unfunny roles. And they’re really, really good at it – Franco’s lazy-lidded sadism plays remarkably well against Hill’s cynical opportunism.

And it’s all true. Well, maybe. Some of it might be embellished. Maybe. Awww hell, what’s that quote about history being written by the victors?

Hill plays Micheal Finkel, the disgraced New York Times reporter who unwittingly became a confidante to Christian Longo (Franco), a man who in December 2001 murdered his three young children and wife. It’s an unforgivable crime and thankfully that’s how Franco plays Longo. He’s not charismatic or attractively heinous (like Norman Mailer made Gary Gilmore out to be), he’s a solid gold piece of shit. The catch being that so is Finkel – a shamed journalist who exploits the Longo story to the absolute ends of the earth. Both are protagonists you would never root for.

See, after Finkel lost his gig at the Times for deliberately falsifying facts about his cover story concerning slavery in Africa, his career was in much need of redemption. Then Longo killed his family and when he was apprehended, a meeting was arranged between them. This turned into a regular correspondence between two truly bizarre bastards. In a similar vein of Capote’s In Cold Blood, True Story explores the dark, selfish and lousy relationship between a convicted murderer and the writer tasked with chronicling his story. Is he playing the journalist or capitalizing on the tragedy? What really was exchanged between these two unscrupulous men during visiting hours?

Much like the sewage that got Finkel fired, True Story takes a lot of dramatic liberties. If you want to know the truth behind the Longo case, all you have to do is Google his name. It’s all on there. Goold seems really confident people don’t have the Internet. But all liberties aside, what makes True Story terribly engaging is Franco and Hill. The amount of dramatic muscles they flex here are enough to choke a rhino. They trade several grand remarks about journalistic integrity during the film’s meatiest moments, but under the surface, it’s clear neither one gives a damn about truthfulness. Watching these two young titans verbally spar for 90 minutes is a complete, entertaining joy. 

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