As a true crime fan, I was intrigued by the trailer for True Story I caught on TV one morning. The movie is based on actual events involving accused Oregon murderer Christian Longo, whose story is told in a book called True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. Was it worth my time and money, or should those responsible for this movie be locked up?
I brought two companions with me, who aren’t into this type of film like I am. I wanted to see this because I was interested in the story, but I was also curious to see if James Franco could play an accused killer. The last role I saw him in was Dave Skylark in The Interview. I saw that film against the wishes of North Korea, and I’m not sure if that makes me a badass or a dumbass. (For the record, I enjoyed The Interview). At any rate, I wanted to see Franco portray a different character, as the only other movies I had seen him in were Your Highness and This is the End, comedies quite different from the drama that is True Story.
Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkel, a journalist who works for The New York Times. When facts about his latest cover story are unable to be corroborated, he is let go from the publication. If that weren’t bad enough, his former employer publishes an article calling out Finkel and announcing that he no longer works for them. Finkel believes his writing career is over, as other outlets he contacts have no interest in his services.
Finkel’s misfortune emphasized the importance of fact checking a piece. One flub could be career ending, no matter how many prestigious publications you have to your credit. One thing I found of interest was Finkel’s interview technique. Although the incident took place in the early 2000s, Finkel utilized a notebook and writing implement over electronic devices for recording information. It was his own notes, or lack thereof, that led to his downfall.
Finkel is dejected from his recent firing and inability to find a new position when he receives a call. A reporter from The Oregonian is on the phone regarding Christian Longo, an Oregon man jailed and awaiting trial for the deaths of his wife MaryJane and their three children, Zach, Sadie and Madison. When Longo was located and apprehended by the FBI after fleeing to Mexico, he was using the name of disgraced journalist Michael Finkel. When a shocked Finkel learns of the situation, he decides to pay Longo a visit at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon to find out why the accused has stolen his identity.
The reporter asks the accused about his alias. Longo tells him he admires his work, has been following his career, and he wants to tell Finkel the truth about his case in exchange for Finkel teaching him to write. Finkel seems uneasy having a man accused of such heinous crimes as a fan, but he views this opportunity as a chance to restore his reputation, and agrees, albeit reluctantly, to Longo’s terms.
Finkel and Longo form a relationship of sorts, but will what Longo tell him have the reporter write another fact piece laced with fiction, the kind that got him in trouble in the first place? Both men are taking a gamble with the story. If Longo tells the truth, if he is innocent, who will believe the words of a journalist with questionable credibility?
It’s hard to decipher the actual truth as the story plays out. Although I read about the case online, and thus knew the outcome before seeing the movie, I found myself wavering on Longo’s guilt or innocence. The courtroom scenes are a bit intense. I was holding back tears at the pictures of the deceased children.
Felicity Jones plays Jill, a woman who lives with Finkel. At the film’s conclusion, the audience learns that he and Jill have married. I’m glad it worked out for them because the characters in the movie have zero chemistry onscreen, to the point I almost thought they were brother and sister. Jill receives a call from the incarcerated Longo asking to speak with his journalist buddy, and he tells Jill that he hopes they too can become friends. Unaccompanied, Jill pays the accused a visit to tell him in person what she thinks of his idea. I wonder if this transpired in reality. This part seemed a little unbelievable given the cool relationship between Finkel and Jill.
Brad Pitt is the executive producer on True Story, so he must have thought it was good enough to attach his name to the project. I would have to agree, although there were a total of seven people in the theater at 7:00 PM on a Saturday when I saw it. I can’t speak for the other four people that were in attendance, but my party enjoyed this movie much more than they thought they would. I admit it was better than I expected. The ending gives an update on Finkel and Longo. Besides Finkel marrying Jill, we learn he still communicates with Longo. The ultimate kicker is that Finkel gave Longo writing tips as part of their deal, and as a result Longo is now a contributing writer for the very same publication that canned Finkel.
I held off purchasing the book to see if the movie was interesting. On the ride home from the theater, I ordered the book for pickup from my local book seller. I will be buying True Story on DVD to accompany the novel as soon as it becomes available. It was a decent film worth a watch even if true crime isn’t your favorite genre. In case you’re wondering how James Franco looks in a prison jumpsuit, let’s just say that orange is the new yes, please.