So, a New York Times journalist fabricates a feature story, is justifiably fired, is unable drum up new work in his state of professional disgrace (which is how it should be)… and then he has the amazing luck to learn that a man accused of murdering his wife and three small children had been impersonating him while on the run. And when the alleged killer wants to give the journalist his story, it results in a juicy book advance from a major publisher. Just because this is a true story — the reporter is Michael Finkel, the now-convicted killer is Christian Longo — doesn’t save this telling of it from being the height of poor taste.
I imagine that director Rupert Goold — who, with David Kajganich (The Invasion), adapted the real Finkel’s memoir about his bizarre relationship with the killer — figures he’s telling a morally complicated tale about journalism and justice and, I dunno, the lies that men tell themselves. But all True Story does is grant notorious men even more notoriety by giving voice to their inexcusable “travails”… and what’s worse, via Oscar-nominated actors Jonah Hill (Hail, Caesar!), as Finkel, and James Franco (The Night Before), as Longo. That’s a damn stamp of approval in the minds of men like the ones they’re protraying!
What unbearable realities forced these men to lie in order to endure them? Simply the baseline expectations that one will behave as a decent human being, and will honor minimum obligations. Does Finkel deserve an opportunity to redeem himself after committing the worse sin of journalism, making shit up? Does family-annihilator Longo deserve a soapbox to justify his crimes as driven by love? If this is supposed to work as a tragedy about men who get tripped by by their narcissism and think they should be able to do whatever they please, regardless of the requirements of civil society, it doesn’t. It just feeds such self-absorption.