With a movie title like True Story, it’s no surprise that, yes, it’s based on a true story–incidentally, a book based on a true story. Re-telling the recent tale of Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a journalist for The New York Times who was summarily fired after fabricating the details of a piece about the African slave trade, Rupert Goold does his best to bring intrigue to a dialogue-heavy screenplay.
It is quite possibly Goold’s robust background in directing theater that makes the movie feel rather claustrophobic, rarely changing settings and often staying on one scene for far longer than is normal in your average film. Finkel’s fall from journalistic grace forces him to rejoin his wife, Jill (Felicity Jones), in Bozeman, Montana, where an unlikely news story falls into his lap. After a writer for The Oregonian contacts him about his feelings on Christian Longo (James Franco), a man who just murdered his wife and three kids, using Michael Finkel’s name as a false identity while on the run from the law, Finkel becomes fascinated by Longo’s character and what possible reason he could have for honing in on using his byline. So curious, in fact, that Finkel reaches out to him and goes to visit him in the Lincoln County, Oregon prison.
From the get-go, there is something eerie–almost steely–about Longo, who is unflappable in the face of his accusations, instead intimating to Finkel that he’s innocent. Convinced this could be the story that might be able to resuscitate his career, Finkel is eager to tell “Longo’s side” of what happened, in book form no less. The pitch garners the interest of HarperCollins, spurring Finkel on to dig deeper into whatever Longo is hiding and who he’s “protecting.”
The more involved he becomes, the more susceptible he is to Longo’s crocodile tears, much to the disgust of his dead wife’s family and the prosecutor, Greg Ganley (Robert John Burke a.k.a. Bart Bass from Gossip Girl). “You had a choice of so many stories to tell, and you chose his,” remarks MaryJane Longo’s (Maria Dizzia) sister. By the time Finkel realizes the trap he’s fallen into, he’s lost an irreparable amount of honor and integrity.
In the meantime, the Perry Smith/Truman Capote relationship they’ve cultivated has been reversed against Finkel in the Capote role. He’s the one who’s been studied and duped by Longo from his seemingly harmless Smith station in prison. And yet, while comparisons can be drawn between the plot of In Cold Blood and True Story, one would still rather read the former or watch Capote.