Every now and again a film comes out of nowhere and hits you like a ton of bricks – so unexpected, so abrupt. ‘True Story’ was that movie for me. A delicate, somewhat baroque, true-enough story based on the memoir by Michael Finkel, a former journalist of the New York Times that had his life seemingly turned upside down by a mad man’s deception. On the bill, I read the names Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street) and James Franco (Pineapple Express) and thought I was in for, at the very least, a boatload of laughs from a few hours of presumably stupid jokes. However, this movie is unalike the expected stoner-buddy comedies such as ‘The Interview’ or ‘This Is The End’. In fact, ‘True Story’ doesn’t have a comedic bone in its body. It is almost as if Hill and Franco are so fed up with doltish, imbecilic comedy that they threw this dramatic thriller into the rotation just to keep us honest, a la ‘Moneyball’ for Hill or ‘Milk’ for Franco. Let me repeat: this movie is not funny. ‘True Story’ is a highly intelligent and fascinating film.
The true story behind ‘True Story’ starts with Christian Longo (Franco) murdering his wife and three children and disposing of them in a nearby harbor. Following his horrific crimes, Longo flees to Mexico under the assumed alias, Mike Finkel, where he is later caught and imprisoned. Mike Finkel (Hill), however, is a semi-renowned journalist (probably played up in the film) with the New York Times, of whom Longo is rather fond. As a wink, Longo intentionally gets the real Finkel’s attention, who regrettably feels induced to share Longo’s story with the world via a highly anticipated book. As the two men bond through their prison chats, Finkel finds himself in too deep with a murderer as Longo’s trial serves to uncover the gruesome truth of the murders that Finkel is reluctant to believe. From there, Finkel realises he’s been played by Longo and becomes maligned towards his former friend with whom he is now inexplicably linked.
In his first real feature film, Rupert Goold directs, coming from a background of almost exclusively theatre productions, outside of a few made-for-TV-movies. Goold succeeds in championing highly personal scenes between his characters. In the many jail conversation scenes, the camera gets right into Franco and Hill’s faces to the point where the audience can not only intricately see, but sense their raw response and emotions. It’s in his insistence on progressive, theatre-like sequences such as these, that savour the dialogue and grow the suspense organically, that Goold triumphs with his debut.
While unpredictable, ‘True Story’ is more than simply a compelling novel turned into cinema, but a cautionary tale of knowing how to dissect information and read into the lies of a liar. It is an adroit commentary on human purpose and benign belief. It is a thematic clinic on not believing everything that you hear. And somewhere deep inside this film is a hint of friendship’s true meaning. Not of the everybody-has-friends cache, but of the friendship-is-determined-by-one’s-destiny manner. It’s surprising, though, that the friendship exhibited is not one cultivated through blazing herb on the couch, but instead through potent, unrefined conversations on a prison bench. The degree to which ‘True Story’ remains a true story is for the viewer to decide. But I implore you to watch and decide for yourself, because it’s not every day that a film comes out of nowhere to hit you like a ton of bricks; you should relish those moments.
Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill