True Story

Apr 16, 2015

Secrets and Lies:



True Story

Grade: A-

Director: Rupert Goold

Screenplay: Goold, David Kajganich (The Invasion) from Michael Finkel memoir

Cast: James Franco (127 Hours), Jonah Hill (Moneyball)

Rating: R

Runtime: 100 min.

by John DeSando

“Sometimes the truth isn't believable. But that doesn't mean that it's not true.” Christian Longo (James Franco)

True Story? Maybe not so, but then what do I know about the secrets of journalists’ or murderers’ hearts, each beating differently to reality. How do I assess the truth of high-end journalism (Stephen Glass of the New Republic and Janet Cooke of the Washington Post are two recent liars)? Or even low-end: the Rolling Stone’s rape story retraction? Vipers out there!

Historically-true Mike Finkel (an excellent Jonah Hill), a disgraced New York Times journalist, meets an alleged family murderer, Longo, who has been using Finkel’s name for an alias while Longo was on the lam. However, he’ll have aliases no more because he’s indicted for murdering his wife and three children yet may be manipulating Finkel about the truth. But then, isn’t Finkel massaging him for the story?

As Finkel meets him and begins a book about the murders (In Cold Blood echoes), it is never clear whether Longo is lying: A testimony to Longo’s brilliance and to Finkel’s disgrace for fudging a lead magazine section for the NYT. Lies are the hotbed for this thrilling, intellectually engaging biopic, whose arguable details have more suspense than most fictional on-screen thrillers.

The real thrill for me is the one-on-one sequences in prison while Finkel questions Longo, with Hill and Franco displaying why they are A-list film actors. Both underplay to great effect since lies are best applied subtly. Both actors will not be recognized at Oscar time because they acted so gently and without the great Nicholson or Pacino flourishes. 

The many enthralling close up shots move plot along and deepen characterization without sensational gestures or facial gymnastics. Writer/director Rupert Goold keeps the suspense moving but allows us to linger with the principals to appreciate the challenge of finding the truth amid the charm of expert liars.

From the antiseptic, tomb-white prison to Finkel’s woody Colorado retreat, we are led around the truth like asses, while the clues to truth are sprinkled among the seemingly neutral sets.

Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.” Lyman Beecher

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at