Do you trust the truth?
Film: True Story
Aaron Van Maanen
James Franco and Jonah Hill drop their comedy roots and collaborated on a serious film. True Story is based off of true events, and is the detailed encounters between a convicted killer and a struggling journalist. The film opens with Jonah Hill who is playing as Mike Finkel, a journalist for the New York Times. We see him interviewing a group of five African American boys, obviously trying to uncover truth. He is using a translator and has to result to a financial incentive to get what he wants to hear. Once he returns to the United States he writes the story and it ends up as the cover story on New York Time’s latest magazine. It seems like everything is working perfectly for him, until he is called into a meeting with a representative from the company.
The organization “Save the Children” contacted the New York Times wanting to fact check the information provided in the article, including major details such as the actual identity of the child featured in the story. Finkel is asked to prove the identity of the child, but is unable to do so because he claimed he didn’t take notes that day. It is soon easy to realize he made up a majority of the story to try and make the best story possible. He did the research but changed his focal point to one child to attempt to make people care more. The representative called him out on it, and after refuting for minutes, Finkel suggests that he should write an extraction, but begs that they won’t include an apology. He fears if that would happen “nobody would touch him.” The representative calmly told him that he had a bright future ahead of him, but it was not with the New York Times. After that scene I realized how truly important it was to only convey the truth in stories. One bit of false information could cause the downfall of your entire career as a journalist, as Mike Finkel soon discovered. A regular audience reading the paper will believe whatever is written, which is why it is so important for the company’s credibility reasons to only publish the truth. Finkel spends the next few scenes trying to call other journalist organizations but even his old friends don’t want to hire him after what happened.
The parallel story in the film is that of Christian Longo’s, played by James Franco. He is shown being apprehended by the police in Mexico, and he states that his name is Mike Finkel. The actual Mike Finkel is notified of this and arranges a meeting with him right away. The main question Finkel had for Longo was why he chose to “steal” his identity. Longo expresses how he had always followed Finkel’s career because he always focuses on finding the truth. He then tells Finkel that he wants to tell him the true story of what happened but makes him give him his word and promise he won’t write about it until after the trial. There are many scenes where the two characters write to eachother, and soon Finkel realizes he has enough information to publish a book about Longo. This presents the next troubling journalist aspect of the movie. Finkel is approached by a government official who is involved in determining whether or not Longo is guilty of the murder of his family. He pressures Finkel to give him the information and documents he has received from Longo, claiming he could be the one who could release him from prison or send him to death row. Finkel is pressed with the difficult decision but is loyal to his word and does not divulge any information he received from Longo. I know that if I were asked by government officials it would be a difficult process, because I would want to stay loyal but I would not want to break any laws, such as withholding evidence.
One of my favorite lines from the movie is when Finkel and Longo make the deal of Finkel getting full access to write the story on Longo. Finkel states “You might not like what you read.” Longo simply replies with “I understand.” This comes after a friendly conversation, and I was almost taken off guard. One thing I struggle with is keeping my opinion out of journalist articles. Finkel and Longo had in a way just became friends, and then Finkel tells him that if he writes the story it might shine a negative light on Longo. This is an obvious necessity that I struggle with, but Michael Finkel is a professional who has a realistic grasp on what it means to be a journalist. He made the mistake of falsifying an article to enhance it’s emotional weight, but he wasn’t a writer for the New York Times by chance. He knows what it takes and understands that it is not always pretty.
Another one of my favorite lines from the movie comes from Finkel, and it could be controversial to some. “Everyone deserves to have their story heard.” In the recent wake of the San Bernadino shootings, I stumbled upon a tweet from a celebrity that stated “The media needs to stop saying the names of people who mass murder others on tv. They don’t deserve their names read. They deserve nothing.” I thought of the tweet immediately after I heard the line in the film. I want to agree that everyone deserves to have their story heard, but I also agree that people who do horrific things such as mass murder deserve nothing. It is a difficult thought, brought about by terrible happenings.
The film True Story was better than I could have ever expected. It was also interesting having an intense focus on the journalistic aspect of the movie. It presented many different angles on the meaning of truth, and how important or reliable certain truth’s can be.