Thursday 28 September 2023

Movie review: True Story, Netflix (2015)

I had a personal interest in this movie because of the plot, which involves a New York Times reporter named Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) who gets laid off by his employer for falsifying information in a feature story. He’s then contacted by another reporter (Ethan Suplee) who tells him that his name had been used by an accused murderer when he was found living temporarily in Mexico. Finkel has his interest piqued so goes to see the guy (James Franco) in jail.

This is an interesting movie by a first-time director (Rupert Goold) and the acting is very low-key. Even at the points of highest emotional tenor the drama is pretty flat, though having worked as a journalist I probably felt the peaks and troughs keenly. More keenly than most? It’s difficult to say as I haven’t talked with anyone about the movie, but going by the quality of the directing and of the acting I’m sure everyone can come away with a good experience.

Christian Longo, the accused, is a plausible foil for Finkel, they both have their own ways of communicating but find common ground despite differences in background and in experience. The ending is completely opaque so even though not much happens you have a good cinematic experience. I really liked the subdued mood the movie expresses, it is in stark contract to most filmic productions which rely on either violence or fast motion (the threat of violence) to sustain themselves. ‘True Story’ is miles away from your standard Hollywood production in this regard. Definitely worth watching even if you have no experience with news production. But, then again, most people believe that they do because they read newspapers.

The news media is often part of movies and TV shows because it’s an efficient way to show a change in the plot. Once something important becomes common knowledge, and is no longer a secret, then it’s on the news and you get reporters and TV anchors talking to camera, or else you get a gaggle of reporters with cameras and satellite dishes congregating outside someone’s house. The news is a plot device so it’s a commonplace. Where ‘True Story’ is different is in how the ethics of news is foregrounded. Instead of a dupe the media becomes a standard-bearer for morality, a sort of cult of veracity where sins are punished with expulsion. In a way that is uncommon, ‘True Story’ talks about what it means to be part of that industry.

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