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Waterfront Festival

8 of the Best Films Based on True Stories

16 May 22 words: LeftLion Screen Team

We may have looked into mythology for the latest issue of the magazine, but these films are based on nothing but cold, hard truths...

Goodfellas

Why do we like true stories? Is the fact that they’re based in real events make them somehow more cautionary? Do they give us something tangible do aspire to? Or, does the fact that these people existed, and these events actually took place, transfer a sense of credibility onto the big screen? 

If there’s truth in any three of those questions, then we need look no further than Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas as the prime example of a film based on a true story that at once inspires, fascinates and frightens us, while simultaneously feeling so palpably, intensely authentic. People might cite The Godfather as the greatest film in the gangster genre, but I’d swap Don Corleone, a king sitting atop a fictional crime empire, for Henry Hill, a real mafioso turned rat willing to do anything and everything to save his own skin, any day of the week. Ashley Carter (Editor) 

Fargo

Look, it says it’s based on a true story, so it must be based on a true story. Forget what Google says. Regardless, this is one of the greatest movies of all time – and the Coen brothers’ finest outing (commiserations to No Country For All Men). With a sharp, unique script brought to life by phenomenal performances from all of its cast – from Frances McDormand’s loveable yet no-nonsense portrayal of police chief Marge Gunderson to an utterly unhinged display from Steve Buscemi – this is big screen entertainment at its finest. Has writing this made me want to watch Fargo for the fiftieth time? Oh, you betcha. George White (Assistant Editor)

Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder is a 2003 thriller about Korea's first confirmed – and until recently, unsolved – serial murders in the 1980s, and the under-equipped detectives' desperate attempts to find the killer. Despite knowing from the off that the officers' efforts are in vain, director Bong Joon-ho's sophomore feature is a gripping and varied watch that includes both moments of surprisingly well-integrated comedy and scenes so chilling that they wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie.

When making the film, Bong hoped that the culprit might see the harrowing final shot of Song Kang-ho staring directly into the camera and feel remorse for his actions. The real killer finally came clean in 2019, with it turning out that he had already been in prison since 1994 for the murder of his sister-in-law – and while it’s unlikely that Memories of Murder had anything to do with the confession, his cellmate alleged they had watched it on TV together three times. Jamie Morris (Screen Editor)

Spotlight

Real journalism. We heard it died. Replaced with clickbait titles and endless press write ups. But somewhere among it all, there’s still writing that matters and that makes a difference to the world we live in. Such is captured in Tom Mcarthy’s 2015 film Spotlight. With a cast including Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, the real life story follows the Boston Globe’s ‘spotlight’ team as they uncover the sexual abuse taking place in the Roman Catholic Church. Exploring a story that shook the Boston community, the film's brilliance lies in its nuance, capturing the complex and conflicting emotions of the journalists, most of whom have strong cultural and familial ties to the Catholic community. A heartbreaking, thought-provoking and thrilling film, Spotlight is well worth your time. Lizzy O'Riordan (Editorial Assistant)

Schindler's List

Schindler’s List is a hard and intense film to watch, telling the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved about a thousand Jews during the Second World War. This harrowing movie shows the cold reality of how poorly people were treated; shot in the middle of the streets and driven to their death by the SS. Families were torn apart and briberies were rife – a hostile climate was created, which will hopefully never be repeated. Produced and directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993, this is understandably still considered as one of the saddest films ever made, showing the true horrors experienced during the Holocaust. Marta Tavares

Apollo 13

In April 1970, an oxygen tank on Apollo 13, the third manned trip to the Moon, exploded 200,000 miles from Earth, leaving the three men inside unable to fulfil their mission and unsure of how to get home. Captain Jim Lovell (portrayed by the ever-solid Tom Hanks) was king of the understatement when he famously radioed: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 covers the technical aspects well, but where it really excels is showing the emotional impact of the missions on the astronauts' families. Everything – from not being able to hug due to quarantine rules to the solidarity pat on the back from a teacher to Lovell’s son stoically watching the footage of the landing attempt – displays a time when we could unite over mankind’s glorious ambitions and join together to console ourselves when these went wrong. It’s still incredibly tense, even if you know how it ends. Sue Barsby

Moneyball

I don't fully get baseball - it takes too long and is almost exclusively played in time zones that are less than conducive to UK audiences. But I love Moneyball.

It took a while to realise that I genuinely did love this film, and not just the idea of getting into American sports, which soon wore off, and it's hard to put a finger on exactly why. This might be my favourite Brad Pitt performance (Ocean’s Eleven notwithstanding), and every supporting actor carries their weight perfectly. The simple essence of the film boils down to, ‘I want Brad Pitt to win his silly game, and spend time with his daughter.' The soundtrack is excellent and the dialogue is some of the best in any film that I’ve seen; plenty of films seem not to grasp the concept of how real humans interact with each other, but this is not one of those. Michael Vince 

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

The suits didn’t know what to do with Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and the film was subsequently butchered by studios (six editors share credit) to the point where the director wanted his name removed from the project. But this conflict feels elemental to the film itself- as it does with most Sam Peckinpah films - in the sense that Peckinpah’s vision of the West itself is in a fractured state of flux.

Infamous outlaw Billy the Kid finds himself on the run, hunted by none other than his old compadre, Sheriff Pat Garrett. The film's meandering cat-and-mouse chase did actually happen, but I’m sure Peckinpah and his team took some liberties - yet who doesn’t? Either way, it’s a gem of a Western that boasts great lead performances from James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson, with a supporting cast that reads like a who’s-who of great seventies character actors like Harry-Dean Stanton. To top it all off, the score composed by the great Bob Dylan wraps the bloody affair in a tight, melancholic poncho. Aaron Roe

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