Anything daring enough to call itself True Story better be larger than life, because we all know that truth is stranger than fiction. For anyone not in the know of the story behind the relationship between former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel and Christian Longo — like myself — you’re in for some pretty disturbing twists and turns. Anyone expecting a yuck-fest with the casting of real-life buddies Jonah Hill and James Franco, you’re in for a surprise. Anyone who happens to be fans because they know both of them can act — fantastically when needed — are in for a disturbing treat.
True Story introduces us to Finkel (Hill) investigating an African slave trade, only to get fired after diluting his facts, returns to Montana and wife Jill (Felicity Jones). In Mexico, Longo (Franco) is arrested for the murder of his wife, Mary Jane (Maria Dizzia), and three children. With Finkel disgraced and begging for work, he receives a call from Oregonian reporter Pat (Ethan Suplee), informing him of what Longo has done. Seizing an opportunity of a lifetime, Finkel jumps at the chance to correspond and meet with Longo who starts messing with Finkel. Soon enough, the facts begin to blur as Longo reveals that he may not be the innocent man he claims to be.
There’s a lot more to the story, but where’s the fun in spilling the beans? While you could obviously just head online to find out what happens, it’s best to walk in cold. Or if you’re already a fan of the story — you news junkies know who you are — at least Rupert Goold’s direction will keep you riveted. And his screenplay, co-written by David Kajganich, is full of smart misdirection. Fine-tuned ears will be able to keep up with Longo’s shenanigans before even Finkel figures out what’s really going on.
Franco and Hill go a long way being cast against each other, and it helps with the rapport of the journalist and possible psycho. But the real standout is by far Jones, even having just been nominated for her portrayal of Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane in The Theory of Everything, she gives a knockout performance with one scene near the end of the film that could see her nominated again. She may not have a lot of screentime, but she winds up head and shoulders above everyone. The True Story here, is that the film is haunting in all the right ways, giving us great performances from almost pigeonholed actors, with a director not afraid to shine a light at the psycho within.