True Story Review - Franco/Hill Docu-Drama Scores Stunning Box Office Win

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TRUE STORY, from Fox Searchlight Pictures and New Regency/Plan B Production, present a chilling docu-drama highlighting the heinous, sadistic murders of MaryJane Longo and her three children at the hands of her now convicted husband.

Directed by Rupert Goold, TRUE STORY stars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol, Robert John Burke and Ethan Suplee and was adapted for the screen by Goold and David Kajganich based in the book by Michael Finkel.

TRUE STORY opens with a child, a sleeping curly haired little girl, no more than three, curled in a suitcase, a teddy bear is dropped beside her. The same suitcase is seen sinking into freezing waters of Puget Sound, the camera pans the luggage as it falls, a desperate struggle begins, as the child attempts to free herself from her prison resulting in a small tear.

TRUE STORY then cuts to New York Times reporter, Michael Finkel, in Africa scribbling furiously as his interpreter explains the shocking exploited lifestyle children laborers face every day. Questioning the boys, the aggressive reporter, clearly onto something, jots down notes, of this one, that one, stories blending, no longer a separate group of boys the story becomes a combination of facts with a single subject.

Immediately the story cuts to South America, a stranger, impersonating New York Times Reporter Michael Finkel, is attempting to light a candle, a universal sign of contrition for known and unknown sins, unable to work the antiquated coin operated machine, a German female tourist assists. The two spend the night together.

Soon Michael Finkel, played by Jonah Hill, is sitting in the New York Times conference room as his editor Karen Hannen, played by Gretchen Mol, demands he produce the notes that contributed to the story. As someone who has graced seven New York Times Sunday Magazine covers this story, like the others, has gathered the attention of global agencies. He is stunned; unable to distinguish singularities of each child, the facts become unsupported embellishments and he is terminated.

The Mexican authorities accompanied by FBI Agent Greg Ganley, played by Robert John Burke, pull up as the Michael Finkel impersonator Christian Longo, played by James Franco, is watching from a cheap motel balcony. He is arrested and escorted back to the states.

The two lives had no chance of intersecting until circumstances misunderstandings on one side, heinous, violence on the other bring them on a collision course.

TRUE STORY is genuinely engaging, based on the heinous murder of Mary Ann Longo and her three beautiful children, Zach, Sadie and Madison, at the hands of her now convicted husband. The facts within the screenplay center on the relationship between disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel and cold blooded convicted murderer Christian Longo.

As Hollywood usually shies away from portraying the murder, especially the violent murder, of children, it was shocking to see the beginning scenes. The nature of the crimes and the filming choices of the opening scenes are dramatic and anchor the attention.

Autopsy photos are shown, with snapshots of bloated faces, chilling testimony, most of which is  true and actually remained in script.

I remember this case following the details on FBI or Forensic Files one of the True Crime television shows. The nature of the crime, considered most heinous and diabolic by the federal agents investigating, went further than then presented in the film.

The wife, considered very modest, professed lifelong Christian beliefs, her children were also raised with a belief in the Christian doctrine. The husband, a con artist, infiltrated the church, married Ms. Longo and faked his beliefs until he could take no more, and according to the FBI stripped his wife, in his last act of hatred, so that when she was found she would be discovered naked. His hatred so evident even after death he caused her, believing the world would see her naked, the ultimate humiliation.

TRUE STORY presents an honest accounting of a true crime, monstrous and pure evil in nature, which remains fresh even as sentenced has been pronounced and the loose end apparently tied neatly. The family remains in distress, desperately missing the three lovely children who were carried in the dark of night to their death.

By the film’s end one is left wondering how the system allows animals like this to walk among the rest of us. It is stunning.

James Franco and Jonah Hill create an on-screen chemistry that capture the desperate ambitious need both men seek.

Finkel, to be known, to be back on top at all cost, nothing is scared, especially three dead children and a non-descript wife, to cloud the visions of futures believed deserved. The illusions that the dead, dying or those below the poverty line are stepping stones in the jungle to assist the fallen regain their pinnacle is vividly portrayed by Hill.  Longo, masterfully finds Finkel’s Achilles heel and wedges himself deeply into it and piggybacks the fame parlaying into his own.

Felicity Jones plays long suffering girlfriend/wife, Jill Barker, of Michael Finkel, who in one moment rises from the pall her lover remains under and explains in a stunning scene with Franco, she has eyes that do see.

James Franco digs into the deep places as he, once again, nails the diabolical. His portrayal of Christian Longo, the misunderstood, calm, wrongly accused, sadistically ambitious, devote Christian, has got to be one of the most chilling certainly in recent film history.

TRUE STORY opens April 17, 2015. Check Local listings.

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