True Story: A Movie Review and Musings

Warning: Spoilers here if you don’t know the story or have not seen the film. Since this movie is based on a literal true story, I am writing what has happened. If you do not want to know what happens please stop reading now!

True Story was a great film; Jonah Hill and James Franco gave terrific performances, although I wouldn’t expect any less out of them! This film is eerie, especially considering it is, in fact, a true story. It shares the journey of journalist Mike Finkel-played by Jonah Hill-, who has been disgraced at The New York Times for writing a false story, (We’ll get into that a little later) and his encounter with accused murderer Christian Longo-played by James Franco-. (Now convicted)

We meet Mike as his future is looming darkly before him; he’s been let go at The New York Times for falsifying a story, and the next steps with his career and life seem rocky at best. Meanwhile, Longo is in Cancun enjoying the sun and a female German companion while his family -wife, two year old daughter, three year old daughter, and four year old son- is being dredged up in waterways in Oregon. He is found and detained whilst using the name ‘Michael Finkel, writer for The New York Times’.

The real Mike Finkel is alerted to this from another journalist, and thus begins the relationship between the two. From here, Finkel contacts Longo through a letter and they meet at the prison Longo is being held at while awaiting his trial. They agree that Finkel will help Longo with his writing, and Longo will return the favor by giving Finkel the “true story” and talk only with him. Finkel must also refrain from printing anything until after the trial. Finkel agrees to this, and their friendship if you will, blossoms.

As we watch, we see that Longo is manipulative and Finkel is dangling on his every line. I have not read the book by Michael Finkel that this movie is based on, however I did read that the actual Mike Finkel thought Christian Longo was guilty from the start. He only told Longo he believed in his innocence while trying to get the material for his book. Going back to the movie, we find out along with Finkel that Longo is pleading guilty to two murders while pleading not guilty to the other two.

So as to not give a play-by-play, although I’ve seemed to a little already, he does get convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He had tried telling ‘his story’ to the jury, that his wife was furious when she learned he’d been lying to her about their financial situation and the van he’d stolen, among credit card debt and forging signatures for checks. He came home from work to find her hysteric and their baby looking strangled on the bed. He shook her to know where their other two children were, and she said, “In the water.” He then became deranged and grabbed her by the neck, killing her. He was so overwhelmed with emotion at the realization she could murder their children that he couldn’t help himself.

As I said, the jury saw right through this and he was sentenced to death. In the film, Finkel does go to where Longo’s being held on death row to see him. They seem to part on bad terms with Finkel wanting nothing more to do with him, but in the end credits, we see that the real Michael Finkel still speaks with Christian Longo on the first Sunday of every month.

Oregon has had a death penalty moratorium since 2011. This means there is a temporary ban on all lethal injections for the time being. (Yes, I had to look up what moratorium meant) The whole story is eerie, first of all that someone could throw their young children into a body of water while they’re still breathing with weights tied to their feet so they would surely drown, or freeze to death with the water temperatures being viciously cold that night. Secondly, the whole relationship between murderer and journalist is crazy how much he strings Finkel along, and how much it affects Finkel’s life. Longo finally admitted to murdering all of them, but I don’t think we’ll ever know why.

What makes a monster? Is it the things they do? Or is it the fact that other than that one act, they are otherwise completely normal? Perhaps because they don’t see anything wrong with what they’ve done? I know these acts are completely unforgivable, but how is it we decide the line to draw of what is inexcusable and what is forgivable? There is so obviously a disconnect in an individual to be able to commit these horrifying acts. How can we further study them, to perhaps be able to produce an antidote and catch it before it’s too late? I’m kind of going off from what I originally was wanting to write, so let me get back on point.

I think it’s terrible that Michael Finkel’s career was destroyed for falsifying his story in the way he did. Honestly, I think it’s our fault, society as a whole. He wrote a story to get his readers to feel for Africans being forced into slavery. He knew people would not feel as ‘sorry’ for these people if we knew all these factors had in fact happened to multiple individuals instead of just one. The paper was putting pressure on him to finish the article, and he wanted us to read it and feel for them, and maybe do something about it. What does he get in return? Fired and a ruined career. What the hell is wrong with us?!?! This is important whether one thing happened to one person instead of a million things terrible happening to them. We should be getting fired up without people feeling the need to fabricate a story already so sad and horrible.

Secondly, I understand Christian Longo was convicted, confessed, and is responsible for cruelly murdering his family. I am not debating that topic. I am debating the fact this movie made it seem like such a crazy idea that a mother would be able to kill her children. If we can so willingly without a doubt believe a father could, why can’t we believe a mother could? We hear stories about it happening all the time! So why is it hard to believe it could happen? I think that kind of thinking is just asking for women to get away with murder. Yes, that’s a little over the top to say, but you get my point. (I hope!)

Anyway, I’ll let you get back to your lives now, thank you for sticking with me if you have! You deserve a cookie and cup of coffee at the least. 🙂 I did thoroughly enjoy this movie, and definitely suggest finding and watching it if you’re able to!! Have you seen it yet, and if so, what did you think?

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