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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

True Story movie review: lies and the lying liars who tell them

True Story red light

The height of poor taste. Grants notorious men even more notoriety by giving voice to their inexcusable “travails,” thereby feeding their self-absorption.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of True Story for its representation of girls and women.

red light 2 stars

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True Story (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 17 2015
UK/Ire release: Jul 24 2015

MPAA: rated R for language and some disturbing material
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, disturbing images)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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