Buried Treasures: True Story

“Buried Treasures” is a bi-weekly film series highlighting beloved films that have been either underseen or underappreciated. Every other week, one 25YL columnist will choose a film they think is deserving of additional praise and shine a spotlight on that film. The film chosen may be one that few have heard of, or maybe it will be one that was panned by critics. Either way, their spirited defense of the film will hopefully encourage more people to give it a chance and maybe even find a new favorite film. In a seemingly endless sea of negativity on the internet, “Buried Treasures” provides a space where positivity reigns.


I am delighted to be able to make a contribution to the new “Buried Treasures” series! The film I’ve picked to discuss is True Story, which came out in 2015. I first watched it after becoming fascinated by the criminal case it examines. To me, seeing this depicted on-screen was a real treat and I felt the film more than did justice to the story.

True Story is a film based on the arrest of Christian Longo, who was accused of killing his wife and children. Directed by Rupert Goold and starring Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones and James Franco, this film depicts the events which unfold after Longo is apprehended for the murders. Giving the name Michael Finkel upon being taken into custody, it soon becomes clear this is not, in fact, his name but the name of a journalist he has an interest in. This, of course, brings Finkel into the investigation, despite him having no prior connection to the Longo family.

Felicity Jones and Jonah Hill in True Story

This film plays so much on complex human emotions and the flaws we have which may lead us to act in ways we would never have imagined. The fact that this really is a true story emphasises this in that not only can we feel these things, but so can an accomplished, intelligent, entirely rational and sane man. We almost will the bad guy to succeed due to the way the story is portrayed. This complicated psychology creates one of the most thought-provoking films I have ever seen.

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, this may be a good film for you. It is not as fast-paced as your typical thriller, in fact, I would not call it a thriller at all. However, the nature of the story means there are moments in this film that will make your blood run cold and your thoughts turn to darkness and fear. While you are watching it, the pacing of True Story allows you the time to really consider the feelings you might experience yourself in a similar emotional situation. Not only does this case envelop Michael Finkel, but there are ramifications which extend far beyond him into the realms of his family, and of course, the extended family of Christian Longo. If you enjoy complexity and are fascinated by psychology, this is absolutely a must-see. It gives you the opportunity to decide for yourself to what extent you believe in innocence.

Although originally some of the reviews claimed this film was underwhelming, it is my personal opinion that the creators should be applauded for not telling this story as a work of dramatic fiction, and instead chose to keep the events as they really were. I believe that in doing this the overall message is much more chilling, as opposed to just fabricating a more dramatic storyline. Keeping it realistic gave it that edge that was truly scary. So many films today, especially in the horror or the thriller genre, have aspects to them which are unrealistic. Where this is done it is often heavily criticised, and therefore I think it is unfair to equally criticise films which try much harder to stick to truthful, believable—and indeed in this particular case—real plotlines.

It is my opinion that this film is not for everybody, but instead more for those who have an existing interest in psychological or intriguing criminal cases. While I do understand the frustration some people experienced because they entered the cinema expecting a violent drama and did not get it, I think that was more of a marketing issue than an issue with the film itself. While it steers away from straight-up action, it contains scenes that are intensely disturbing and haunt me to this day. Being distributed by Fox Searchlight aided True Story to slip right under the radar of popular culture. It was not written to be a blockbuster, as it was written to be stunning and to be appreciated in the way that only people who are truly interested in its story could manage.

James Franco in True Story

The real reason why this film is such a gem to me is the complexity and plethora of the emotions it manipulates you into feeling. Taking you on a ride with a convicted felon and a journalist who doesn’t know if he is aiding a criminal or helping to free an innocent man raises not only questions of morality but also an emotional reaction of simultaneous sympathy and wariness. The incredible nature of the original story in the first place makes this such a unique tale, and I’ve never felt such real confusion of my emotions in response to a piece of cinema before. Somehow at times, I found myself rooting for the bad guy. This film made it so easy to see the catastrophic effects of manipulation and how easily a person can fall into the trap of wanting to believe in something so much that it clouds their judgement in a way they don’t even realise. This especially hit home for me as someone who aspires to be a journalist and take these leaps of faith.

In addition to this intricate concoction of emotions we feel as viewers, the colours and scenes we see are done simplistically and impactfully. One particular scene in an autumnal forest is visually stunning, and the acting does it justice. The visuals of Longo’s drawings and the forest settings by the Finkel house are beautifully done. The paper drawings from a prisoner spread out around the house of a normal man trying to do the right thing is an image I recall strongly from the film. It had a strange intrigue to it and made everything feel much more real—which of course it was. Overall, the story and the visuals and the strong sense of morality in True Story makes it a must-see for me.


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