True Story

Finkel's Name


17 April 2015| No Comments on True Story     by Sean Chavel



The kind of true crime docudrama that came often in 1990’s cinema. True Story is a riveting and decently acted one based on a bizarre murder case where the accused was caught in Mexico after fleeing the Oregon crime scene where submerged in the moat his wife and three children’s bodies were found. Jonah Hill is Mike Finkel, a cocky New York Times reporter for about five minutes, until he is fired by his editors for smudging the facts on a story about child sex slaves in Africa. Left disgraced, he is in career limbo until he learns of the caught accused Oregon murderer who assumed his name and identity.

Accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) is a self-pronounced Finkel fan, and once in lock-up, promises him exclusive interview rights. Act two has a lot of good tense scenes of Finkel and Longo facing off each other and telling little things about themselves. To gain trust. To build rapport.

We sense that Finkel is a good writer, but we sense he’s no Truman Capote. He doesn’t seem very good at excavating the grisly truth of a multiple homicide. Finkel is an overly nice guy after all, and that’s what makes the situation interesting. We do reach a moment where Longo vaguely admits to be guilty of certain things, but that he is innocent of the murders. Longo says he is going to plead innocent in court. Up until this point, Finkel thinks he has a book deal on this case because he has great back story. But he still doesn’t know what really happened at the events that led to four inexplicable deaths.

When we get to the courthouse scenes, a shocker: Longo pleads guilty to murdering his wife and youngest child, but innocent to his other pre-teen childrens’ deaths. Watching from the sidelines is an exasperated Finkel who had boasted to his editors prior that he was going to plead not guilty to all murders.

Finkel feels betrayed but he still is on Longo’s side, although the betrayal deepens. Longo’s story continues to raise doubts, and we hold our breath for the big scene where he testifies on his behalf of what really happened. It’s a fascinating story of confession, it doesn’t disappoint us in the audience. The end of it though upsets Finkel to the extreme, who knows that Longo’s version is duplicitous.

The real Finkel has said this about Longo in numerous interviews: “On some level, Longo is the most frightening person you’ve ever met because he’s not frightening at all when you meet him.”

It must be said though that I liked Hill and Franco in the roles without being convinced that they could have been played better by other actors. Together they fuss a lot in actorly fashion (the dialogue still grips you), but they lacked the weathered look that I’d expect the real persons would be in that situation.

I nearly forgot to mention Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”), the sexiest dork in the movies, is relegated to the supportive spouse role which requires lots of frowning.  Here the patient wife doesn’t say much at all about Finkel’s emotional toll while he’s at work, just pores over at him with concern, until she finally makes a big statement that is grandiosely manufactured for screenplay purposes.

Behind the camera is young untried director Rupert Goold who despite aforementioned faults brings a steady hand to the unlayering of material. The final scene however is Goold’s worse: The movies need to call a moratorium on scenes where an acclaimed writer is performing a public book reading and becomes frozen with internal revelation while others look on at him wondering… Is He Okay? But seriously, I was absorbed and wound up by “True Story,” and have gladly invested hours of time afterwards thinking about it. And flashback: I’ve even re-opened the quandaries of Capote’s “In Cold Blood” back into my mind as well.

100 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Killer: A Journal of Murder” (1996); “Bully” (2001); “Shattered Glass” (2004); “The Imposter” (2012).

True-Story_Flick Minute _2015-Poster

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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