Does everyone deserve to have their story told? Fox Searchlight Pictures’ True Story starring Jonah Hill and James Franco is the type of mystery/drama cinematic work that sucks you in from the opening scene. It’s like a good mystery novel that you can’t put down. This movie slipped past a large portion of patrons of the temple of moving pictures and critics, including yours truly. At the recommendation of a friend of mine, I watched it and found it to be an exemplary movie that combines the best of a gripping mystery and pairs it with pedigreed acting and direction. It was also surprising to see both Hill and Franco in serious roles–very much a juxtaposition to the roles each respectively find themselves in. Director Rupert Goold provides us with an outstanding movie that intrigues and entertains. The cool color pallet and cinematography resemble a David Fincher style of direction. For journalists, authors, or even university researchers, this movie adds a self-reflivity element to the plot steeped in the idea of telling a story.
After years of having stories grace the covers of notionally syndicated magazines and news papers, award-winning New York Times journalist Mike Finkel (Hill) winds up disgraced after publishing a story that was was unethical in its presentation. Following his relation to Montanna, Finkel is presented with a high-profile case of Christian Longo (Franco), a man accused of murdering his entire family. Skeptical at first, Finkel is soon confronted with a multifaceted story that screams to be published. The more Finkel delves into the mind and history of Longo, the more he is intrigued by the events and actions that led Longo to be accused of the horrendous crime. Striking up a deal to teach Longo how to be a writer, Finkel takes the opportunity to write a best-selling novel in order to get back into the gam; only, he may have encountered more than meets the eye, and wrestles with the question: how to tell a true story? Sometimes a “true” story contains far more than could have ever been anticipated.
Gotcha! Like an excellent mystery/drama should, True Story contains a fantastic “gotcha” moment during the third act. Beyond the mystery at hand, there is a manipulation of facts and emotions that will catch you off guard and cause you to question and analyze the story in such a way that you did not see coming. I don’t know about you, but when I watched it, I felt the movie had a fair amount of a Hitchcockian feel about it. Just when you think you have it figured out, then you have to rethink your entire perception of past events and plot devices. You will likely ask yourself, ‘what is the true story being told here?’ This dynamic plot is three fold. You have the story of the alleged murders, the story Finkel is writing about Longo, and the movie itself which captures the over-arching story of the relationship between Finkel and Longo. This is a true story based on the true story which is based on another story. At each turn, you are sucked in deeper and deeper until you are not sure who is deceiving whom.
The cinematography and direction are both outstanding. Couple those elements with the excellent acting and writing, and you have a fantastic mystery/drama that continues to entice you as you watch it. A very positive note on the plot of this movie is the commitment to visual storytelling. From the moment the movie opens, the audience is shown the director’s commitment to using the magic of moving pictures to tell this story. So often with mysteries, it is necessary for the characters to engage in prolific exposition in order to help the detectives/journalists or even you as the audience member to piece together the puzzle. Fortunately, Goold and Finkel (as we wrote the story based on his encounters with Longo) all the characters to evolve naturally and dialog with one another in such a way that they enhance the plot and not speak their way through it.
If you enjoy murder-mysteries or investigative journalism, then this is definitely a movie for you. Despite the fact this movie flew under the radar, it is a wonderful example of how a true story can be more interesting and gripping than the best work of fiction. If for no other reason, you should watch this movie in order to see a different side to Jonah Hill and James Franco as they demonstrate their ability to reach beyond the comedies and satires they are so often associated with.