True Story – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Rupert Goold
Stars: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) was an up-and-coming journalist from Montana who worked for the New York Times until he wrote an article, in which certain statements were either not true or not substantiated by his contemporaneous notes. As a result he was fired. More or less at the same time Christian Lungo (James Franco), was arrested in Mexico following the murder of his wife and three children in Oregon. He had been passing himself off as Michael Finkel. Meanwhile Finkel returned to his wife in Montana and found it difficult to obtain work as his trustworthiness had been shattered by his failure at the New York Times. However a local newspaper the Oregonian contacted him in order to obtain his views on Lungo using his identity in Mexico. Fascinated by this information, Finkel visits Lungo in prison. There then develops a complex relationship between Finkel and Lungo which centres around the guilt of Lungo in relation to the death of his wife and three children. Finkel begins to doubt Lungo’s guilt as Lungo feeds him information.
The director faced a difficulty in how to make dramatically interesting the passing over by Lungo of detailed information in relation to his alleged crimes to Finkel which might make Finkel doubt his responsibility. To be blunt Rupert Goold only partially succeeds. At times there is a sense of bewilderment as it is difficult to discern the importance or relevance of any particular piece of information. However there is a fairly satisfactory, low key courtroom sequence in which Lungo makes a surprise partial plea. However Finkel is left adrift as to the responsibility of Lungo and by the end of the trial Finkel no longer knows what to think of Lungo.
Neither Finkel nor Lungo have unblemished records and in this mental arm wrestling it is difficult to discern who is manipulating whom. Finkel resorted to writing a book entitled “True Story”. There is not any doubt that each has been a subject of fascination for the other. That each certainly got under the skin of the other is also without doubt. However it is difficult to discern where that leaves the viewer. Notwithstanding the acting performances of Jonah Hill and James Franco, the piece is too unresolved and diffuse to make satisfying viewing.