Before having seen True Story I was entirely unaware of the national headline account that was Chris Longo (James Franco) and Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill). So, like any blue blooded American about to see a movie based on a true story, I did absolutely no research. A full 24 hours after having seen this film I’ve read through a dozen or so articles regarding this interesting twist of fates. If you read on let’s just consider this your research.
Let me preface this review with my apprehension in writing about a movie that features a well-known journalist(will he ever read this? who knows) but a small part of me wishes he does. This is admittedly a novice thing to do but feels necessary, so if by chance you’re reading this Mr. Finkel I do hope you enjoy my writing.
Longo and Finkel are seemingly star-crossed in the fated journey depicted by True Story. I don’t buy the ‘fate’ aspect suggested by the film, I do believe through everything we see play out that Longo was cool and calculating, manipulating Finkel for his own perverse need.
We first meet Christian Longo as Mike Finkel, a writer for the New York Times on assignment in Mexico. Shortly after our introduction he is apprehended by the FBI with no resistance. Let go by the New York Times, he’s more than willing to take a chance and investigate a story he had no idea he was involved in. Weeks into his attempt to journalistic-ally redeem himself, going so far as offering to cover a snowboarding event, Mike Finkel is caught off guard by a strange phone call inquiring his input on Christian Longo case and his own identity being used.
I’m thus far convinced there isn’t a hole to pigeon James Franco in, from Pineapple Express to 127 Hours, to the much talked about Interview; the only trend evident in his film’s is that if there’s a spotlight, it’s on him. This goes without saying when watching True Story. Franco’s depiction of Longo is confident and eerie just like Longo in his initial interviews and police reports. There is a smirk that never really leaves Franco’s face even when he’s upset with the line of questioning that comes from Finkel (Hill).
Finkel is more invested in the outcome of Longo’s case than anyone else, the brief encounter he has with the family even seems emotionally forced for the film’s sake. I needed to know if he did it and I’m never satisfied with the stories Longo tells. Jonah Hill (Superbad, Money Ball and This Is the End) does a good enough job convincing me that he is Finkel, the remorseful writer seeking redemption. Needing Longo’s story to pull himself out of the hole he dug himself at The Times, it’s why we see Mike Finkel so eager to form a relationship with Longo beyond identity theft inquiry. I found myself in an ever changing flux of feeling bad for Mike Finkel and being disgusted by him all the while wanting justice for MaryJane, Sadie, Zach and Madison.
By far my favorite moments have to be the dramatic opening scene, when Finkel’s girlfriend, Jill (Felicity Jones) visits Longo and hears the verdict. Without giving much away I implore you to watch this film for the cinematic thriller it is, especially in the first scene. If you aren’t sure which side to be on beforehand it will do a sound job of persuading you. As for the scene with Jill: you’ll understand when you see it. Throughout the film she’s portrayed as mousy and supportive, never truly stating her opinion until this moment. I was consumed by the intense beauty of her emotion. [Side note: I kept thinking ‘How cool is her job?’ every time they showed her at work] The verdict scene is easily spoiled with a quick Google search but there is a sickness that comes with it that you can’t get from reading an article, it sticks in your throat like a silent sob. I felt remorse and relief upon the end of this film up until what I like to call the ‘Where Are They Now?’ portion of a true-to-life film.
– Meagan Ryerson