5 Recent 'True Story' Movies That Are Full Of Lies
Since we're guessing that you're probably not reading this while nude parasailing across piranha-infested waters, we don't have to tell you that real life is pretty darn boring. So it's understandable that, when adapting real stories into feature films, Hollywood tends to monkey around with the truth a bit. But, as we like to do from time to time, we'd like to call your attention to some of the most egregious cinematic truth-stretching we've seen lately, such as how ...
Mank Fabricates Mank's Motive For Writing Citizen Kane
David Fincher's Mank chronicles the writing of the greatest movie ever made that doesn't involve John McClane saving Christmas. The big mystery at the heart of Mank is why Herman J. Mankiewicz seemingly turned on his former social acquaintance William Randolph Hearst and crafted the screenplay for Citizen Kane as an artful takedown of the powerful newspaper mogul. Well, Fincher's answer is about as real as Charles Foster Kane's dinky-old childhood sled.
In the movie, Mank turns against Hearst after learning that he and MGM head Louis B. Mayer conspired to torpedo socialist Upton Sinclair's gubernatorial campaign, using studio resources to fake newsreels in an elaborate smear campaign. Mank is further sickened by all this after the director of the sham project, an old friend of his, commits suicide on the night of Sinclair's election loss.
While the phony newsreels were real, there's no evidence that Mankiewicz had a problem with them, or even that he supported Upton Sinclair. In fact, he likely didn’t because his politics "skewed conservative." Mank had nothing to do with the newsreels, nor did a suicidal director who, it turns out, was an invention of the movie. Even the film's depiction of the creative process behind Citizen Kane is the subject of some controversy. Mank makes it seem like Mankiewicz wrote the entirety of the script in isolation before Orson Welles merely swooped in to take credit following its completion.
Fincher's story was "based largely" on the findings of a notorious 1971 essay by critic Pauline Kael, which claimed that Mank was the "primary author of Citizen Kane." While the movie supports that thesis, Kael's essay was widely debunked; it was full of errors and later research concluded that Citizen Kane was a collaboration between the two, containing a "substantial" contribution from Welles. Although we can be reasonably sure that it was Mankiewicz who came up with the dumb sex joke that drives the entire narrative.
The Story Behind Disney's The One and Only Ivan Was a Real-Life Tragedy
Disney doesn't have the best track record when it comes to turning real-life events into big screen adventures. Still the recent Disney+ charmer The One and Only Ivan, based on the popular book, is a pretty galling attempt to turn a gross true story into a whimsical piece of family entertainment. The movie follows a gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) who lives in a 1960s shopping mall, performing daily in a circus run by ringleader Mac, played by Bryan Cranston.
First of all, the real Ivan was adopted by the proprietor of a mall, but not to perform in a circus so much as .sit around in a concrete cell for customers to gawk at while shopping for acid wash jeans. And unlike the palatial backstage digs we see in the movie, in reality, Ivan's home had the roominess and charm of a truck stop men's room, prompting the concern of animal right's activists.
Like in real life, protests erupt at the end of the movie, and Mac decides to do the right thing and give Ivan to a zoo. In actuality, Ivan was only released to a zoo because the mall owners were forced to file for bankruptcy. But while Movie Ivan gets to relocate to a zoo with his friends from the circus, such as Stella the elephant --
-- sadly, the real Ivan was alone. The mall did have an elephant at one point but it "reportedly died of neglect." Yeah. And once the real Ivan got to the zoo, he was so messed up from spending 30 years in isolation, he couldn't socialize or mate with other gorillas. Disney also neglected to mention that Ivan was almost bought by Michael Jackson and shipped to his "gorilla palace" -- but that's an edit we can actually get behind.
Capone -- Al Capone Didn't Do Most of That Stuff
2020's entry in the "Tom Hardy does a silly voice for two hours" canon, Josh Trank's Capone, tells the story of fabled gangster Al Capone's final years -- specifically as his syphilis-ridden brain causes him to hallucinate his past crimes.
Yeah, most of that stuff never happened; there's no evidence of Capone, say, ordering someone to stab his associate in the neck 33 times. Nor is there any record that he dressed up like a woman to elude the police and killed an alligator with a shotgun for stealing his fish during a boating retreat, unfortunately. The movie also implies that Capone squirrelled away $10 million dollars, seemingly the same myth that poor Geraldo fell prey to in the '80s. This is mostly likely not the case as, according to one expert, Capone "spent his money like crazy." And the film's suggestion that Capone had an illegitimate son are also unproven. Most sadly, the scene where Capone murders a bunch of random people with a golden tommy gun while wearing a giant diaper --
-- never happened. This news is somehow even more disappointing than Trank's entire Fantastic Four movie.
The Dig Sidelined (or Deleted) Important Women
Satiating the world's rabid hunger for old-timey archeology-based dramas, Netflix's The Dig finds Ralph Fiennes excavating ancient artifacts (including an ancient ship) in the English countryside, based on the real-life Sutton Hoo discovery. The movie was promptly criticized for its agism in casting 35-year-old Carey Mulligan in the role of landowner Edith Pretty, who was 56 at the time. The Dig was also called out for sidelining its female characters; Peggy Piggott (played by Lily James) is portrayed as a meek, bumbling "sidekick" to her husband, who has only been hired because of her weight.
While the movie's Piggott claims that she hasn't "done much actual fieldwork yet," the real Piggott, who was only 27 at the time, was "an experienced archaeologist who'd studied at both Cambridge and the University of London" and "by 25 she had already directed fieldwork in Hampshire, publishing her results." Weirdly, this clumsy characterization stems from the original novel, which was written by Piggott's real-life nephew. The movie also omits the two female photographers who documented the dig while on holiday, creating "some of the most important records of the structure of the ship." Instead, they were amalgamated, along with another photographer, into a fictional male character who becomes a love interest for Peggy -- presumably because slowly digging up ancient boats wasn't sexy enough.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 Mangles its Subjects' Politics
Never one to pass up the chance to stage a prolonged political monologue, Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed The Trial of the Chicago 7 based on the real-life prosecution of the handful of anti-war protestors who were charged with conspiracy following the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Goofy wigs aside, a lot of the film feels very authentic, in part because Sorkin pulled much of his material from "actual transcripts." But much of the movie still came from the same place that all of those cringey moments from The Newsroom were birthed: Aaron Sorkin's brain. For starters, the story begins not with the protestors, but with the prosecutor Richard Schultz played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. We see how Schultz was dragged into the case reluctantly and didn't believe they could win. And in the end, as activist Tom Hayden reads out the names of every American soldier killed in Vietnam since the trial began as his closing statement, Schultz stands with the defendants in defiance of his boss.
But in reality, Schultz wasn't a quasi-sympathetic, reluctant participant, he was "more of a hard-driving idealogue" and as much of a dick as his colleagues. Even the real Schultz was annoyed at this distortion of events which made him seem like more of a human being. The now 82-year-old Schultz disputes that he was somehow embarrassed by his role in the prosecution because "it was precisely the opposite."
Also, Schultz never stood for Hayden's climactic closing statement because it never happened. Another defendant, David Dellinger, did read some names, but it wasn't on the day of sentencing, it was during the day of the Moratorium to End the War on Vietnam -- and was seemingly capped off by Abbie Hoffman trying to unfurl a Viet Cong flag before it was wrestled away by a deputy marshal.
It's as if Sorkin was actively throttling back on the radical implications of his anti-establishment story; concerned that by telling the truth, and giving us no sympathetic characters on the other side, he would be depicting American justice system as fundamentally oppressive. Similarly, Abbie Hoffman's politics are more watered down than movie theatre Pepsi. In his cinematic testimony, Hoffman opines that "the institutions of our democracy are wonderful things" but are "populated by some terrible people."
Hoffman was a self-described anarchist and "hedonistic Communist" so unsurprisingly he didn't actually go out of his way to laud the current "institutions of democracy." In reality, Hoffman said almost the exact opposite during his testimony, stating that "the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system." The guy who created The West Wing may not agree with that statement, but contriving a story where the likeness of a dead counterculture icon parrots an opposing ideology just feels wrong.
Top Image: Netflix