Finally, a quickie TV movie — in this case, the Nancy-Tonya saga that riveted much of the Western world less than four months ago — intelligently captures the chaos of the source material. The story may reek of moral squalor and may already be played out in the print and electronic media, but the moviemakers almost make it look fresh.
The majority of the credit goes to the producers and writer Philip Penningroth (who sharpened his docudrama teeth on “Amy Fisher: My Story”). His “Rashomon”-style multiple viewpoints and array of talking witnesses, presented a la the movie “Reds,” continually propel the narrative.
Not surprisingly, none of the by-now-overexposed players in this bewitched fairy tale comes off sympathetically. The character assaults, reportedly based on the mass of public records and statements, begin with a despicable portrait of Tonya Harding’s dominating mom (Susan Clark), moves to a comically inept picture of the gang of four thugs who engineered the attack on Nancy’s “long bone,” as it’s described by Shawn Eckhardt (Dan Schneider), and extends even to Nancy Kerrigan (Heather Langenkamp), who appears considerably less angelic than she was portrayed at the time by the media.
But the movie’s focus is largely (and wisely) on the more interesting Tonya (Alexandra Powers, who creates a colorful five-and-dime personality, a kind of athletic guttersnipe). Although we witness two dramatizations of the conspiracy, from the viewpoints of Tonya and her husband Jeff Gillooly (the lookalike James Wilder), the production clearly nails Tonya for playing too many ends against the middle.
Nothing new there, but the win-at-all-costs mentality, fostered by flashbacks of driving authority figures from her girlhood years on the rinks, gives Tonya’s fall its resonance.
The most sane voice in the show is a recurring figure in the process of writing the Tonya/Nancy story (the excellent Dennis Boutsikaris). He concludes the movie with this razor-sharp observation: “Tonya and Nancy — we deified one and demonized the other. And we imprisoned them both in images that we used to sell newspapers and the Olympic Games and TV movies.”
In fact, the ripest moment in helmer Larry Shaw’s production (maybe a first in a network TV movie) is an unusual swipe at network execs sitting around cynically jawing about getting this “damn good Nancy and bad Tonya” story off the ground in time for “the May sweeps.”
Powers and Langenkamp are so physically close to their counterparts that the actors are dramatically impossible to distinguish from the skating inserts of the real Harding and Kerrigan. The opening images under the credits, when cinematographer Alan Caso’s lens closes in on sleek calves and skates flashing over the ice like swords, is a textbook introduction. The frequent application of video inserts is satirically on target. As Boutsikaris’ narrator figure, for instance, remarks that “Nancy the good became the richest silver medalist in the history of the Games,” the screen suddenly fades to a by-now familiar shot of the glittering ice princess gleaming into the camera and chirping “I’m going to Disneyland!”