DVD Review: True Story

True Story“True Story” is about false stories. Or, to be even more obtuse, it’s about true stories told by false people.

The movie opens in Africa. A highly regarded but youthfully ambitious New York Times reporter interviews a young man who has been held — and abused — as a slave. The young man’s story, told through an interpreter, is compelling but maybe a little bit off. No matter: it’s a great scoop and it runs on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine.

But a couple of NGOs operating in that African village cry foul and raise questions about the veracity of the slavery exposé. The Times reporter, Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), makes an attempt, equally valiant and cringing, to defend a story that is mostly true even if he might have conflated a couple of characters and goosed the course of events.

He’s fired. Steeped in disgrace and self-pity, he experiences a new and wholly unexpected shakeup: a murder suspect apprehended in Mexico had assumed Finkel’s identity, right down to his employment at the Times. Curious as well as unemployed, Finkel travels to the Oregon penitentiary where the alleged murderer awaits trial.

And so begins a variation on Everyman’s evolving relationship with the Demon Behind Bars. Think Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter or Truman Capote and the “In Cold Blood” killers. Finkel is looking for journalistic redemption and he sees a book coming out of his interviews with Christian Longo (James Franco), who is charged with killing his wife and three children.

What Longo is looking for is less clear — which is either a fault of the movie or a tribute to the complexity of his character. Silkily interpreted by Franco, Longo emerges at the end as the ultimate narcissist. He doesn’t care about anyone. He values nothing except the opportunity to manipulate — to toy with people and to invent narratives and his own reality. It’s all a diversion, an amoral, intellectual exercise.

Finkel may think he’s the guy walking free with a sure best-seller but Longo has taken him first for a ride and eventually as a prisoner.

The acting, generally restrained and often without dialog, is everything it should be and the production values (settings, photography, compositions and music) are first rate. “True Story” is a psychological chess match in which Longo is the grand master and Finkel thinks they had agreed to play checkers.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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