Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Lies, Facts and a 'True Story'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Lies, Facts and a 'True Story'

Article excerpt

A man sits in a dusty tent in a foreign land, taking notes. He's asking some teen boys about awful experiences they've been through via an interpreter. We've seen this movie before: he's obviously a journalist, doing important work, and we know it's just a matter of time before we hear the words "New York Times" or "Washington Post." (It's the Times.)

One of the boys is reluctant to divulge. The man says you can trust me. More hesitation. So the journalist coolly flashes a $100 bill, neatly folded between his fingers. The interview concludes, the money changes hands, a terrific story later appears on the cover of...wait, what?!?

I would hope that most people would know that paying sources to talk is a big journalistic no-no. So obviously something's not right with this guy, Michael Finkel, played by Jonah Hill. We're not surprised when, a few minutes later into "True Story," he's fired for fudging the facts. Disgraced, shunned by colleagues, he retreats to his Montana hometown.

The problem is, the filmmakers want us to like this guy. Or, at least, identify with him. "True Story" is supposed to be the tale of a guy who reaches rock bottom and then pulls himself back to the top with the story of a lifetime. Instead, Finkel remains a moon-faced mystery, a guy who never fully confronts the depth of his deceptions.

If Finkel is a puzzle, then Christian Longo is a total enigma. He's the big story Finkel is after: a seemingly normal man who is accused of murdering his wife and three young children. His tale wouldn't even be known if it weren't for one thing: while on the lam, he sometimes used the alias of Mike Finkel of the New York Times.

The real Finkel is intrigued to know why Longo impersonated him, and reaches out to him in prison. "I was wondering if you could tell me what it's like to be me," he writes. …

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