True Story (6/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 100 minutes.
OK for children.
While Shattered Glass (2003) wasn’t the first time a dishonest
journalist has been discovered and exposed, the story of Stephen Glass
and the way he fooled his magazine employer, The New Republic
with phony stories masquerading as fact resulted in one of the best
movies of the 21st century so far.
This is another story of a dishonest journalist, Michael Finkel (Jonah
Hill), who was asked to write a story about child poverty by
concentrating on a single African native and, instead, wrote about what
he represented to be a single person but was in fact a composite of
many. When his fraud was discovered he was fired by his employer, The
New York Times, and was cast into the netherworld, unable to get a
job or a gig.
One day he was called and informed that someone in Mexico had stolen his
identity. That person turned out to be Christian Longo (James Franco),
who was arrested for massacring his wife and three children. Longo
wanted to see Finkel. When they met in prison Longo asked Finkel to
write his story. With nothing else to do, Finkel felt like this might be
his ticket back to acceptability in journalism.
This movie is a semi-thriller in that much of the film consists of
Finkel interviewing Longo. The questions are, is Longo telling the
truth; does Finkel believe him; and who is using whom? Director Robert
Goold said that part of the making of the film was trying to figure out
what exactly the true story is.
This film is based on Finkel’s 2006 book. It challenges the audience in
that the entire film is flooded with ambiguity. One the one hand we have
a dishonest journalist, or is he? On the other, we have a man who
apparently killed his entire family, or did he? Whom can we trust?
Franco gives a compelling performance as a likable man who seems to be
holding something back. Is he telling the truth or is he manipulating
Finkel? Is Finkel now committed to the truth, or is he committed to
writing a bestseller that will get him back into journalism, regardless
of the truth?
The film is grindingly slow, but it is an interesting enough story that
it has potential. The problem is that Hill is not up to the task. He
plays Finkel in a bland way. This would really be a great picture if
there were someone out there to play Finkel, like Bradley Cooper, who
immediately gets your sympathy, but could also exhibit manipulative
dishonesty, as Franco does in portraying Longo. Then we’d have two
charming but inherently dishonest people going up against each other.
That’s a movie I would really like to see. This one, not so much.