True Story

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
True Story Movie Poster Image
Gripping, disturbing drama based on real murders.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 100 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The truth will eventually come out.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Finkel means well and tries to arrive at the truth, but he doesn't always make the best decisions. Longo is eerily detached and unempathetic -- and that's the least of his sins.

Violence

Many creepy, menacing scenes that show how the murders were carried out. Not overtly gory, but disturbing and uncomfortable to watch: For example, movie begins by showing a dead little girl in a large suitcase, her stuffed animal tossed in with her and the luggage later zipped. Kids are shown tossed into a river; autopsy photos of corpses are displayed on trial. Longo describes how he killed his wife.

Sex

One scene shows a man staring out a window while a woman, her back naked, is sleeping on a bed. Two men talk about one of them picking someone up and sleeping with that person.

Language

"A--hole," "f--k," and "motherf--ker."

Consumerism

Labels/products mentioned or seen include Ford, Apple, the New York Times, Dean & Deluca, HarperCollins.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byJry September 12, 2015

Safe to view but might not hold their attention

After reading other reviews and the synopsis we opted not to let our 13 year old son watch this with us. Yes the events this movie is about are disturbing but... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bymoomoo123 June 19, 2017

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?

Movie details

For kids who love true stories

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