As a writer for the New York Times, reporter Michael Finkle (Jonah Hill) has had multiple covers and recently published his latest cover story which drew some questions about legitimacy. After admitting to alter some information to provide a better story, Michael is let go and returns back home to his wife Jill (Felicity Jones). Soon after coming home, Michael receives a call from a man wanting to know what he thought about FBI’s most wanted Christian Longo (James Franco) using his name when captured. Longo, who was arrested for murdering his family, gets a visit from Michael and tells him that only he will be told the whole story.
True Story, inspired by and based on a true story in a book titled “True Story”, tells a tale about ego and manipulation quite convincingly. As the words spoken by the characters weave tales of guilt and innocence, the audience is drawn in and is just as uncertain about the truth. The film speaks to human nature and how we perceive situations, based off of how important they may be to us. Everyone is using someone in this world and it’s figuring out why and what they stand to gain that makes this film so interesting.
Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill has fluctuated in his career and his personal life, playing the comedic roles that gained him notoriety, while also throwing in some incredible performances in some of the better films of the last few years. Here, Hill drops his schtick and devotes himself to the truth, or at least the truth that suits him. He becomes ignited by opportunity and the possibility of regaining some credit. His visions of the future blur his present and his reality becomes distorted as he travels further down the rabbit hole. Oddly enough, he finds some of himself within Franco’s character and you observe his character going to great lengths to tell a story, rather than seeking out the whole truth. Hill is quite engaging in the role, finding a newer side to himself that leads to obsession and speaks to the inflated ego that we’re all guilty of having.
James Franco, an Academy Award Nominee himself, delivers another very unsettling performance which leaves you guessing throughout most of the film. His character is accused of some terrible things, yet you become fascinated with his version of the truth. He looks tired, barely opening his eyes and creating emotion through most the film, until he’s with Hill. Whenever they’re together, he finds a purpose and begins asking and answering questions. He’s fascinated by Hill’s character and his ability to tell stories, even going so far as to asking for help with his own writing. The bond they form is unusual and Franco’s underlying motives are what keep you so engaged with the story.
At one point in the film, Hill’s character catches a lot of flack for wanting to tell Christian Longo’s story, as he believes that everyone’s story deserves to be told. People questioned his reasoning for wanting to tell the story, but he does make some solid cases when it comes to journalism. So many journalists today aren’t willing to go the extra mile to discover the truth. It’s natural for people to jump to conclusions when they hear some breaking news story and it isn’t hard to believe that Franco’s character probably killed his family. However, he still has a right to tell his side of the story and it’s just as important as the other side. Whether he’s the lowest scum in the world, or a man presumed to be innocent, his story matters. Everybody’s stories matter, it’s just how we go about telling them. Hill’s descent from glory left him without the possibility of work, so it worked out nicely that he had a subject for a book.
Morality, ego, and deception take center stage in this film, constantly battling each other out as the story unravels. The film asks questions about why we choose to pursue certain truths or lies and who we really do things for. It’s very easy to say that you’re trying to devote yourself to the truth, but everyone has a personal reason. We’re selfish human beings and we realize that, yet we still continue to better our position in life, by any means necessary. Ethics comes into play eventually, but it’s Felicity Jone’s character who brings everyone back to reality. In one particular scene, she effectively dismisses any bias and challenges Franco with the hard truth. She’s our window into Hill and Franco’s friendship, observing the effect they have on one another and how Franco slowly manipulates Hill.
True Story, which opened to positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, is a very well-acted film which feels like it should be some type of awards contender. That’s sort of what they’re going for, but the film never reaches a level that completely blows you away. Despite all the intrigue surrounding the characters and the search for the truth, the film does play out rather slowly and ends somewhat anticlimactically, as everything leading up to it would suggest a big ending. Hill and Franco’s preexisting friendship works to their advantage in the film, as the bond that grows between the men seems all too believable. Jones isn’t around for too long, but she arguably has the most important scene in the film. Writer/Director Rupert Goold has a very worthy first film on his hands with True Story and it’s refreshing to see a film that blurs the line between truth and lies in the world of journalism.
True Story Trailer