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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that True Story is based on real-life events, including reporter Michael Finkel's (Jonah Hill) fall from grace at the New York Times and the subsequent back-and-forth he struck up with Christian Longo (James Franco), a man found guilty of murdering his wife and their kids -- and who escaped detection by authorities by impersonating Finkel. The details are very disturbing and tough to process, especially the parts that cover the murders; autopsy photos are shown, and the victims' deaths are re-enacted (images of dead children are shown). It's also discomfiting to get into the mind of Longo, which the movie does. Expect some swearing, including "f--k" and more, and detailed descriptions of the murders.
What's the story?
In 2001, journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) was ousted from the New York Times after editors discovered he'd mixed up sources and their stories in an article about child slaves in Africa. Dejected and defeated, Finkel retreats to Montana, where he and his girlfriend, Jill (Felicity Jones), live together, to figure out what his next steps should be. As it turns out, his future comes to him in the form of a message from another journalist, who informs him that Christian Longo (James Franco), a man accused of killing his wife and their three kids, was just apprehended in Mexico and found to be impersonating Finkel. Curious and conflicted, Finkel meets Longo, and so begins a strange friendship that leads the journalist to write a book and -- more importantly -- to examine his own beliefs about truth and redemption.
Is it any good?
This film benefits greatly from efficient storytelling and taut editing. Based on the same-named book by Finkel, TRUE STORY also works thanks to the two leads, Hill and Franco, who go toe to toe in a film that's mostly compelling. But here's the problem: Viewers are brought on a journey that has Finkel seemingly buying into Longo's story, but they're not likely to be as on the fence as Finkel is. Though the movie tries to seed a hint of doubt about the cops' version of events to heighten tension, it's not an easy sell. (How can a reporter this astute be so seemingly willing to believe Longo's story?) And the scenes in which Jill mentally and verbally tussles with Longo fall short of believability, too. Their "confrontations" seem stagey, with Jones woefully underused in her supporting role. The one-on-ones between Hill and Franco may be some of the best parts of the movie, but they're not quite enough to sustain its momentum.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how True Story handles the murders: Do you think the detailed accounts are necessary to the story? How does a filmmaker handle material like this?
What connects Finkel and Longo? Is Finkel taking advantage of a tragedy to seek redemption, or is he being a good reporter and following a story?
Does Finkel retain an objectivity throughout his communications with Longo? Is that important?
Is a story like this less upsetting because you don't see much of the violence actually taking place, or does the aftermath have just as much impact?
For kids who love true stories
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.