True Story is a slow-burn strange-but-true story that relishes the creepy, unsettling side of American life.
American Horror Story
Based on the memoir by former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel, True Story tells the bizarre tale of the disgraced journalist as he seeks a second chance and a psychopath, Christian Longo, who murdered his own family. Their lives are oddly intertwined.
The weird keeps getting weirder in this artfully-presented tale about words, books, journalism, music, manipulation, self-expression and murder.
Michael (Jonah Hill, Moneyball) was an ace reporter at the Times, the star writer of several New York Times Magazine cover stories. Alas, a muddled misrepresentation of the facts in an article about slavery in the Ivory Coast led to Michael’s downfall in 2002, forcing a move back from the Big Apple to the Big Sky country of Montana.
There, Michael is alerted to the strange Christian Longo case. The prior year, Christian (James Franco, 127 Hours) killed his wife and three children. When Christian is tracked down and arrested in Mexico, he claims to actually be Michael Finkel.
Not-so Buddy Movie
Buddies Franco and Hill, having teamed up for laughs in This Is the End, reunite for drama this time around and both are in good form. Hill’s take on Finkel is maybe a smidgen too much like his take on Peter Brand in Moneyball, but it works. Franco slickly tackles the enigmatic Longo, stringing along Finkel with the juicy notion that maybe he’s really innocent and taking the fall for somebody Longo’s protecting.
Regardless of the outcome, the story of these two guys is so strange, it’s fun to simply watch things unfold and let the pieces fall where they may.
Christian appeals to Michael’s journalistic vanity by noting too many journalists write what people want to see instead of digging into the facts and telling that titular True Story.
When Christian offers Michael exclusive access to Christian’s full, true story, it sets up the opportunity for an unlikely series of interviews by barter. Christian trades answers for writing tips. And Michael gets a big shot at redemption, with a $250,000 advance from HarperCollins for the book rights.
It’s during those interview sessions that the little observations and asides spoken and seen in this movie help give it some nice cinematic heft.
Michael, so befuddled by the strangeness of his situation, observes that right when he loses his good name to poor professional choices, another man, Christian, assumes it and further muddies the Google search results for Michael Finkel.
What’s Michael’s first question for Christian? “What’s it like to be me?”
The ending isn’t an immaculate execution of drama; the collection of breadcrumbs dropped along the way don’t quite payoff as well as they should, but it works well enough to make for one of the most quirky dramas in quite some time.
And the post-drama title cards with photos of the real Finkel and Longo pile on the ironies that are so sad, yet so strangely funny; so likely, yet so absurd. It’s the seemingly only logical way to end a story about two men who are so similar in some respects — both are into writing journals extravagantly embellished with sketches and decorative, hand-drawn borders — but who come from wildly different backgrounds.