True Story: The Great Unwatched

Jonah Hill and James Franco star in the under-appreciated True Story – we revisit the film in our streaming TV and movies column

Feature by Caroline Ring | 06 Apr 2020
  • True Story

It's the golden age of sitting in the house, streaming multiple TV shows at once or watching a brand-new film in the bath. But for every mega-hit like Game of Thrones or Marriage Story there are dozens of freshly-made series and films just waiting to be discovered, and hundreds of hours of classics sitting there with no-one watching them. That's what this new series is all about – unearthing some of the most interesting, intriguing and inexplicable wonders on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, MUBI, All 4, and the various other streaming platforms you're subscribed to.

When I decided to watch True Story, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. The descriptive blurb noted that the movie was factual based on the lives of former New York Times journalist Michael Finkel and accused murderer Christian Longo. With an intriguing cast, I figured I’d give the film a shot. Now, I’m here to report that just thinking about True Story gives me goosebumps.

Who stars in True Story?

Jonah Hill and James Franco deviate from their typical comedic roles to portray the complex and thrilling relationship between Finkel and Longo, while Felicity Jones gives a stirring performance as Finkel’s partner Jill. Although he's not a major character, Gossip Girl fans will also recognize the lead detective played by Robert John Burke.

What’s True Story like?

True Story begins with Finkel’s fall from grace when he’s caught embellishing a cover story for the Times. After losing his job and credibility as a journalist, Finkel finds a new lead in the form of Longo. Having fled the country after allegedly murdering his wife and three young children, Longo adopts Finkel’s name during his brief time on the run. Intrigued by Longo’s alias and suspected crime, Finkel begins to visit Longo in an attempt to discover the truth and redeem his damaged reputation. 

The dynamic between Finkel and Longo is built on a curious case of mutual vulnerability. While at times it seems that Longo idolizes Finkel, the future of Finkel’s career is dependent upon Longo’s narrative. True Story is an eerie thriller that, from its synopsis, seems like a classic courtroom mystery. However, as the film unfolds, there is a twisted sense of darkness unwinding beneath the surface.

Why should I watch True Story now?

Thanks to coronavirus lockdowns, you’ll need something to capture your attention for a while, so why not play a behind-the-scenes detective. Is Longo deranged or innocent? You decide. True Story offers a sinister distraction masked in all of James Franco’s charm. Be careful not to get caught up in the truth you hope to find.

So, is True Story worth watching?

Yes, just maybe not right before bed. If the film’s unsettling plot doesn’t move you, the score will. Injecting the pace with tension, the background music augments the haunting tone of the film and sets the cast up for success. Franco and Jones shine in particular, their portrayals of mental anguish straining their characters’ encounters and overall relationship. 

What to watch next

Tiger King (2020): The latest Netflix smash hit revels in the true crime narrative around Joe Exotic, famed for his tiger breeding and eccentric behaviour.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019): Zac Efron portrays Ted Bundy, one of the world’s most infamous serial killers, while Lily Collins plays Bundy’s former girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer

Mindhunter (2019): Delving into the dark psyches of serial killers, Mindhunter features two FBI agents and their efforts to profile and catch dangerous murderers

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (2020): This docuseries spotlights the murder of Odin Lloyd, and the life of the renowned american football star Hernandez who was convicted for the gruesome act.