I, Tonya


Producer / Actress Margot Robbie’s ice skating vehicle is a Rashomon-like tale that will exact a worthwhile toll from anyone who watches it. What is the truth here? The truth is which lie would you like to believe. It may be simpler to figure out who killed Kennedy. But the answer as the song goes is always the same,“♫ You and Me ♫”.  Sports pundit Jim Rome likes to opine — often in reference to the New England Patriots — “The cover up is worse than the crime.” Her cover up cost Tonya Harding the one thing she truly loved, the ability to skate professionally. The crime may have cost Nancy Kerrigan and the US an Olympic gold medal. As for who knew what, when — and how it got out of hand…at some point you realize that in terms of a narrative, the story itself, unless told from multiple points of view in repetitive chapters or in a 4 way split screen (you may recall the Mike Figgis masterpiece Timecode), can only be told in one way…in this case with a plethora of disclaimers, caveats and plenty of fourth wall breaking. The narrative device employed by the filmmakers is documentary. Or here, pseudo-documentary. It’s a perfect 1990s Postmodern reference to itself. Using an original cinematic form that in its pure expression is intended to tell the truth —warts and all— in the end only exposes how each individual believes their own truth.

I am going to shift gears now to mention the outstanding Cinematography. It was as flawless as a patented Tonya Harding triple axel. A mixture of Stedi-cam plan-séquences with seamless cuts a la Birdman, combined with insanely graceful and controlled skating montages that would make Hitchcock choke a dinner guest at a cocktail party combined with gritty handheld work of Tonya getting the shit kicked out of her and her kicking everyone in the balls right back. A truly virtuoso performance for Director of Photography Nicolas Karakatsanis.

As for Tonya…At least in this characterization, she shifts blame for every event onto others or her circumstances. Her basically superhuman athletic prowess could keep her above the fray of her sordid life for only so long. Eventually events, and some of those events caused by her own hand and her own negligence come back to haunt her.

Sports is filled with cheating and cheaters. It’s almost built into the competition…the idea of winning at all costs. Take one look at the Russian Olympic program which is almost entirely banned from this coming Olympics for the systematic and state sponsored use of performance enhancing steroids. The story of Tonya spins out from here as a Shakespearean sideshow. Errors were made. The poison was accidentally taken. The sword was mistakenly plunged. The note was naively jotted, with Kerrigan’s practice arena, and practice times, by Tonya Harding, and tossed thoughtlessly away to become the concern of only the FBI and then the world.

What’s amazing about Tonya Harding is that she is simultaneously a victim, a superhero, a felon, blessed and cursed, you can always root for her and ultimately be disappointed in her choices. And you can be certain that at the same time that she is giving you the finger she also sincerely wants your admiration and respect.

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