When we see a feature film that is supposedly based on real people and/or real events, how affected are we by what we think we know about the facts of the matter? Very little.
We enter the theater knowing that time constraints make it unlikely that the filmmakers can do justice to all “the facts.” We assume that the filmmakers will modify facts for narrative purpose. The success of the effort is best measured by overall coherence. Does the story being told make sense?
1999 provided several excellent examples.
When we saw BOYS DON’T CRY,
MAN ON THE MOON, and STRAIGHT
STORY, we agreed that, in each case, we had learned something essential. Brandon Teena, Andy Kaufman, and Alvin Straight all emerged as full, rich characters. We felt we understood their choices and motivations, and we believed their primary interactions. It didn’t matter, for example, whether or not Andy Kaufman really met his wife at one of his wrestling matches (something several critics disputed). However they connected, we believed in their bond
with one another.
HURRICANE and INSIDER, on the other hand, did not measure up. Even though both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe turned in powerful performances, neither could transcend their flawed vehicles. The worlds in which they were placed were too black and white.