Friday, April 24, 2015

"True Story" - Book and Movie

Until one week ago, I was completely unfamiliar with both Michael Finkel and Christian Michael Longo.  Until, that is, I read the movie review last Friday by the Post-Gazette's Barbara Vancheri of the movie "True Story".  The movie sounded interesting, but Ms. Vancheri recommended that one should familiarize oneself with the source material, Mr. Finkel's book, to really understand the movie.

So, I did.

Michael Finkel was a young feature writer who had written a number of excellent stories for the NewYork Times Sunday Magazine, until he fabricated a portion of one of those stories, was caught in this lie, and abruptly and publicly fired by the Times.  As he was preparing to spend his time in journalistic hell by being scorned by his ink stained brethren, he received a phone call from a newspaper reporter in Oregon asking for a comment on the case involving Christian Michael Longo.  Finkel had no idea who Longo was, but he learned quickly that he was a man accused of murdering his wife and three young children, then going on the lam in Mexico and claiming to be "Mike Finkel of the New York Times".

Thus began a strange symbiotic relationship between Finkel and Longo.  Longo spelled out all of the strange history of his life right up until the time of the murders.   Finkel saw Longo as "story" that might enable him to redeem himself professionally and restore his name in the journalistic fraternity.  As for what Longo saw in Finkel, well, I have read the book and seen the movie, and I am still not sure exactly what Longo was attempting to do.  As one of the police involved put it, Longo's long dance with Finkel was nothing but a dress rehearsal for how he would "perform" for a jury.

The book portrays Longo, a psychopathic killer, as the ultimate narcissist, but a trace of narcissism exists in Finkel, too, as the aim of this book seems to be as much a public confession by Finkel of his own journalistic "crime", and an effort to rehabilitate his reputation, as it is a portrait of a killer and his crimes.  The book is as much about the author as it is about his subject, and if there is a criticism that I have of the book that is it.

As for the movie, I waited until I had finished the book before going to see it, and I read a number of reviews of it on line, and if ever a movie can be described of having "mixed reviews", this is it.

Like the book, the movie is as much about Finkel, played by Jonah Hill, as it is about Longo, played by James Franco.  The movie spends much of it's time dwelling on the relationship between the two men as it does on the crime itself.  A pretty good movie could be made out of the life that Longo had led leading up to his crimes, but that is not the direction in which the film makers wanted to go.  The movie also does not dwell on the actual crime itself, with the actual murders having taken place before the start of the movie, and even in flashback scenes, the murders are done "off camera".  That's a good thing, as they were pretty ghastly crimes.

As for the performances, Hill has proven in movies like "Moneyball" and "Wolf of Wall Street" that he is more than just the slob character in R rated comedies where he made his bones, and while he is okay in this one, that's about as far as I'd go: he's okay.  Franco, on the other hand, is terrific as Chris Longo.  I always maintain the the very best actors on screen act with their faces, especially their eyes, and Franco's eyes really sell you on the fact that this is one cold-blooded psycho that you are seeing up there on the screen.

On a four star rating system, I'd give the book three stars, and the movie two-and-a-half stars.  Both worth your time, but nothing that will rank in any ten best lists.

Two side bar stories to my movie experience today.

I went to the first show of the day at the Cinemark, it started at 10:40 AM, and I was one of two people in the theater for "True Story".  I bought myself a small popcorn, and a small Coke.  The tab for that $10.05.  I figure that Cinemark's actual combined cost for these two items came in at less than one dollar.  The Pirates and Steelers aren't the only folks in the entertainment business who gouge you for food and refreshments.

Also, at the conclusion of "True Story", I went into another theater and watched about ten minutes of "Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2".  After seeing this brief part of the movie, I am convinced that it could be among the worst movies of 2015, if not the entire first 15 years of the 21st century.  By the way, there was no one, not a single warm body, in the theater for this dog of a movie.

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