HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: True Story
HTS Overall Score:73
True Crime is a mass market powerhouse for the book market, but many time true stories get wildly distorted when coming to film. That is, unless they’re a documentary, as films are meant to entertain in a 2 hour runtime. “True Story” stays closer to the actual facts than many other “based on a true story” films, but somehow manages to cram in more than enough flights of fancy as to be considered speculative fiction in the end. Based upon the true tale of Mike Finkel and his interaction with the criminal, Christian Longo, “True Story” tries to paint a picture of human duality and loss in a blood soaked “who dunnit” mystery that really is no mystery to anyone at all, but Finkel himself (at least in the film. I really wanted to like the movie more than I did, but the meandering pace and the lackadaisical feeling of the script kept me from truly enjoying the movie. There are moments where the film truly shines, like the court room scene near the end where you wonder if the film makers have played a trick on the audience and is waiting with a giant twist, but soon fades when you realize that was all a façade.
Life is great for Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill). He’s just come back from doing a piece about abused children in Africa, and has his story posted on the cover of the New York Times, where he makes his living as a journalist. However, the truth comes out that he fabricated much of the story by blending the lives of 5 different boys into one story to tug on the heart strings of the viewer. Disgraced by the Times and hung out to dry by the media, Mike goes into exile with his girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones), only to have the opportunity of a lifetime drop into his lap. A man accused of murdering his wife and three children in Oregon has been arrested while using the name “Mike Finkel” as an alias. Seeing and opportunity, Mike heads down there and sees this man who’s been taking his identity. Once there he discovers that Christian Longo (the man using his name, played by James Franco), is not what one would expect from a man who just slaughtered his wife and children. In exchange for writing lessons and someone to talk to, Christian promises Mike the exclusive rights to his story, as long as Mike keeps everything private until after the trial.
From here on out the movie becomes a cat and mouse gave as Mike tries to uncover the “truth”, while Christian seems to give Mike what he wants to hear. The audience knows something is up from the beginning, but Mike can’t seem to make up his mind. Is the man innocent or is he a heartless killer (despite evidence to the contrary everywhere)? Mike’s inability to see what’s going on in front of him is a bit absurd, as Christian gives him absolutely nothing to base this delusion on, beside his constant pleas that he is hiding something for the good of another. However, closer and closer to the trial ending, Mike starts to see the cracks in Christian’s armor. Words start to come together, hints that have been dropped or slip ups that have been made start to form a picture and Mike comes to the conclusion that he’s been horribly horribly wrong the entire time.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=51081[/img]First time director Rupert Goold tries to make a taught mystery thriller with “True Story”, but instead overstates many things in order to achieve that goal. Things that don’t come to fruition by the end of the film. The use of Mike Finkel’s name is suggested as something important, but sooner or later seems to just fade into the background, as nothing laid out in the movie supports anything more devious than just randomly pulling a name out of a hat. It’s used as an ominous talking point the whole movie, but then falls flat in the last act when it’s abandoned. There’s a whole sub plot with Jill and Christian interacting, where it seems the killer has something nefarious up his sleeve, but again this is a lost plot point, fading into the background and losing importance fairly quickly. Goold also tries to make it look like Finkel comes to some sort of redemptive state in his pursuit of Christian’s story, while in fact Finkel himself was semi disgraced AGAIN after writing the book. He never worked for the New York Times again and still corresponds with Christian every month. Much like “Kill the Messenger” with Jeremy Renner, there is an effort to whitewash a disgraced journalist for no apparent reason. I have no problem with twisting things up a bit for a movie, and actually really don’t mind the changes made, if only they had WORKED in the film. As it stands the movie is sluggishly paced, and while thrilling at times, ends up being a tepid piece of work.
Franco and Hill do rather well in their roles, but really it’s the writing and directing that’s mainly at fault here. Both men are extremely talented actors, and certainly have the acting chops to play off each other without making a stoner comedy. I can only assume that they liked the premise of the movie when they signed on, but became a little disillusioned with the film at some point, because the men obviously aren’t pushed to their creative maxes. Felicity Jones plays the girlfriend well with the limited screen time and limited dialog that she has, so I can show no fault with her there, I can only wish the writing had given these men and woman something more to work with.
Rated R for language and some disturbing material
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=51089[/img]Presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the Blu-ray is a capable disc that handles the bright whites of the prison walls, and the hazy layering that Rupert Goold put over the film to elicit the moody tone that he wanted quite well. Those white levels appear to be boosted ever so slightly (a seeming trend lately in the discs I’ve been reviewing, making me wonder if it’s a fad in the industry at the moment) and there is mild blooming as a result as well as a slightly gauzy look to the movie. Detail is excellent on close ups, but when you pull away that gauzy haze sometimes robs a bit of detail as well as wash’s out the black levels during these moments. Colors are bright and well saturated in the prison system, with bright whites and shiny oranges, but in Finkel’s home there are a lot of earthy browns and different shades of 70’s beige. Overall the black levels stay strong and with good detail hidden within the shadows, excepting for those scenes where the blooming whites tend to wash out the blacks a tad. It’s a good transfer, just one stylize a bit into a picture that doesn’t scream 100% referene.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=51097[/img]A simple drama at its core, the movie revolves around the dialog between two men and a few other side conversations, so there isn’t a wild amount of surround activity in the film. With this front heavy mix we got a lot of emphasis on vocals and those vocals are replicated beautifully, with a solid amount of range given to them as well as a nice moody score to accent the quieter moments. The LFE from said score is deep and powerful at times, adding that “dun dun dun” type of beat to the film when necessary. While there isn’t a whole lot of surround usage, there is enough ambient noises, such as when Mike is in his office playing poker, or the court room hearing with the mumbling of the audience members to create a slightly immersive surround experience.
• Alternate Ending
• Delete Scenes
• The Truth Behind "True Story"
• The Making of "True Story"
• Who Is Christian Longo
• Mike Finkel Featurette
• Director's Audio Commentary
“True Story” is not a bad movie, but rather a movie that really wanted to be something more than what it was, and couldn’t find a way to accomplish that goal. Stories faded into a flat ending, characters seemed more important than they were, and the lack of raw intensity failed this movie from ever being as fascinating as the trailer made it out to be. As much as I wanted to like the movie more than I did, I just couldn’t overcome these failings and I have to give it a rental recommendation if you’re bored. The audio and video was quite nice, so the viewing was pleasant enough, and if you want to dig deeper there’s actually quite a nice set of extras on the disc.
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Written by: Rupert Goold, David Kajganich
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish, French DD 5.1
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Runtime: 100 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 4th 2015
Buy True Story On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Cheap Rental
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