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Once I got past the “are we sure this isn’t a stoner comedy?” thing, True Story drew me in. Is it awards-season worthy? Well no, probably not. And that’s probably why it’s here in April rather than November. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing story well told. Grade: B+
If movies and TV have taught us anything, it’s that America loves itself a good whodunit. Or even a good already-know-who-did-it. Let’s face it, we all love watching true crime. So when Michael Finkel’s memoir True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa got the multiplex treatment? I had to see what was up. And I’ve gotta say I was impressed with the way they handled such a convoluted story. IRL, Longo lived a life of the low-grade sociopath (aka “person with antisocial personality disorder”, for the psych majors out there.) Longo was forging checks, committing petty theft and using fake ID. Soon after he and his family moved to Oregon, his wife and children were found dead. Longo fled the country, and was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. When Longo was found in Mexico, he had been going by the name of Michael Finkel, a journalist that had just been fired from the NY Times for fudging his research. Meanwhile in Montana, Finkel hears about how his name was used by a stone-cold killer, he has to find out why. And getting a book deal out of the whole sordid mess wouldn’t be a bad thing either…
Okay I’ll say it; when I first saw that James Franco and Jonah Hill would be playing Longo and Finkel? I thought “oh wow, this is gonna turn into a bottom-feeder comedy.” But nup. They play it straight. In fact, they dust off their respective Award-level chops and really dig into these roles. Doesn’t hurt that Felicity Jones — last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Actress in The Theory of Everything — plays Finkel’s girlfriend (now wife) Jill. Together the three of them play a cat-and-mouse game with the truth; Longo telling his side, Finkel trying to figure out what he believes, and Jill remaining wary of Longo’s hold on her man. My favorite scene has to be when Jill finally confronts Longo. It didn’t happen for realsies, but the performances by Franco and Jones are spectacular. They truly inhabit their characters, and the scene had me holding my breath. Don’t worry, I started back up soon after. Oxygen rules!
Though True Story is kind of a misnomer, as the usual narrative liberties have been taken to make the story flow and give it a sense of urgency, it’s still a fascinating look at one man’s quest for redemption, another’s attempt to deliver his version of the truth…and the ways in which these two seemingly disparate goals intersect.