Does the Truth Really Matter?

When I read that a particular film is based on truth, I instantly judge the plot and decide whether or not this is something I want to know happened to someone else. A Mighty Heart, with Angelina Jolie, is my case in point. Of course I knew about the horrific happenings of Daniel and Mariane Pearl, but there is something protective, something so obviously unrevealing about not seeing it acted out in front of your eyes. I was sickened by this film and upset that I had seen it. Nonetheless, from the best of my knowledge, this story was depicted in truth, without any blaring over-exaggerations.

Unfortunately, it seems that the claim of “based on a true story” has become only a selling tactic and, sadly, a blaring over-exaggeration. It’s like gossip and all those gossip blogs out there today, that yes, I read, but so does everyone else from time to time. For some reason, it’s human nature to be a voyeur, to look and experience the drama of someone else’s life. Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this. But when a movie is branded "based on truth" and exhibits only a small portion of the real version of the story, it is frustrating.

There are many examples of skewed truth within all kinds of film. Some stories are tweaked ever so slightly to protect the integrity of those who were involved, by changing names, neighborhoods, ages, or hobbies. However, this is not the kind of plot twisting I am talking about. A recently successful example is the Universal Pictures film American Gangster. The film brought in millions of dollars, and I distinctly remember being intrigued partially because of Russell Crowe and partially because it was based on truth. Per my usual routine, I was hesitant to see something I knew would be awful and violent knowing it had truly happened. Well, I tell you what; according to this CNN article, federal Judge Sterling Johnson Jr., a man who had an active role in the arrest and trial of the real Frank Lucas (portrayed by Denzel Washington in the film), "The picture is 1 percent reality and 99 percent Hollywood." Check out the article to read more in-depth details about the liberties the filmmakers took while creating their moneymaker.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not complaining about this film. I’ve just always believed that honesty is the best policy. While the term "Based on a true story" clearly doesn’t claim to be 100% factual, it is still misleading, especially when the truth is stretched to such extremes with certain films. Maybe instead creators could label the film, "This film is loosely based on the events of true life," or "This is an enhanced version of a true story," or even "We picked one part of a true story and elaborated to make this crazy movie you’re about to see." All of these options would be suitable to me. Either way, I don’t really believe that giving creators free reign with their “cinematic license” means allowing them to expand the truth to such varying lengths.