In the history of modern sports, it seems like there have always been scandals. From “fixing” games to gambling to doping to biting off an ear, it feels like these events just go hand in hand. However, out of all of these scandals, one has always stood out as one of the strangest, most talked-about occurrences in all of sports. The event in question is, of course, the infamous attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by Shane Stant on January 6th, 1994, in which he attempted to break her leg with a baton after being hired by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt. The attack caused one hell of a stir, and even to this day, no one’s quite sure how the entire thing went down because of the “wildly-contradictory” interviews given by the people involved. This, in turn, makes it the perfect subject for a film, one which attempts to bring order to the bizarre events that transpired 24 years ago, and one that goes a long way towards proving the old saying that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
“I, Tonya” begins by showing us the early life of skater Tonya Harding, growing up with an overbearing mother (Allison Janney) who puts everything she has toward getting her daughter the best training possible. Even at such a young age, her talent is undeniable, winning her competitions and putting her front and center to be a major competitor when she grows up. Years later, Tonya (Margot Robbie) meets, falls in love with, and eventually marries Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a match that her mother disapproves of. Despite Jeff’s abusive nature towards her, they stick together, even after trying to separate. Eventually, Tonya finds herself going to the 1992 Winter Olympics, but after a somewhat poor performance, she ends up in fourth. Afterward, it seems like all is lost as Tonya takes a job as a waitress and gives up on her dream, but when her old coach talks her into training for the upcoming ’94 Winter Olympics, the game is on again.
During training, Tonya receives a death threat, which leads to her husband asking his friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) to send threats to Tonya’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). However, what was originally only supposed to be simple letters gets upgraded to a full-on attack on Nancy, as Shawn ends up hiring two thugs to break her leg while at a practice session. The incident occurs, but doesn’t go exactly as planned, leading to an investigation that captures the attention of the nation and puts Tonya’s entire figure skating career on the line.
As mentioned, “The Nancy Kerrigan Incident” is something that just screams out to have a film made about it. It was one of those strange sports events that fascinated even those who have no interesting in sports whatsoever, but what made it even stranger was that it involved figure skaters, an event that you wouldn’t exactly picture being as rough as wanting to break your rival’s leg. Couple that with a biopic about the life of Tonya Harding, and you have to wonder why it took someone so long to come up with it.
With these infamous events as its centerpiece, the film is nothing short of compelling from the very start as we witness Tonya’s strained relationship with her terrible mother and abusive husband. We can’t help but root for her to achieve her dream as she tries to deal with all of the terrible things in her life. Her perseverance is admirable and even inspiring, that is, until we come to the events of January 1994.
What’s particularly interesting is that the film doesn’t appear to place the blame for the attack on her, but rather the bumbling, self-proclaimed bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt. This is despite a ruling from the US Figure Skating Association that says she knew about the attack beforehand, making the film feel almost sympathetic towards her. However, whether she knew about it or not, watching the events play out is utterly fascinating, amusing, and highly entertaining. The film opens by declaring that it’s based on wildly-contradictory interviews, and from the craziness that occurs throughout, it’s not that hard to believe it.
When it comes to the film’s incredible ensemble, it seems doubtful that the parts could have been cast better than this. Margot Robbie is phenomenal as the titular Tonya, bringing all of her drive, ambition, and strength to the screen in spectacular fashion. Likewise, Allison Janney is incredible as Tonya’s mother, LaVana, giving her just the right touch of nastiness to make her a believable and utterly contemptible character. The rest of the supporting cast is right on point as well, including great turns from Sebastian Stan as Gillooly and Paul Walter Hauser as Eckhardt. It takes a lot of talent to perform such an absurd, yet true, story, but everyone here nailed their roles with complete precision, which only serves to bring you deeper into this odd tale.
Couple all of this with a marvelous screenplay from Steven Rogers, who must be given quite a bit of credit for bringing a semblance of order to these events, and you get one of the very best films of 2017. “I, Tonya” is simply a flat-out entertaining biopic that smartly weaves together the hard and complicated life of a tragic sports star who fell from grace in a rather unusual fashion. You can hardly ask for more than to be captivated by a film that tries to bring these extraordinary events to the screen, but director Craig Gillespie, along with his cast and crew, have succeeded wonderfully, leaving the film with nothing but high marks.
“I, Tonya” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. There’s a little more noticeable grain to the picture than you’ll see in most Blu-rays, but for the most part, it’s a beautifully sharp and clear picture. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio is likewise wonderful, giving you all of the dialogue and the amazing soundtrack in excellent quality. Overall, the film has received great treatment in both areas, leaving little room for complaint.
Feature Commentary with Director Craig Gillespie: An intriguing and informative commentary in which the director gives you lots of interesting background info about the making of the film.
Deleted Scenes (17 Minutes): A collection of five deleted/extended sequences, most of which don’t add much to the film.
Behind the Scenes (16 Minutes): A series of four excellent featurettes (and a VFX breakdown) that focus on areas such as the performances, the director, and the visual effects.
With a wildly-entertaining story and an outstanding cast, Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” succeeds wonderfully as a compelling biopic about the rise and disgraceful fall of the titular figure skating star. It’s hardly a wonder that the film earned an impressive three Oscar nominations for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Film Editing, with Allison Janney winning for her incredible performance. Sitting at #5 on my top ten list for 2017, the film is simply delightful, funny, and most definitely worth seeking out.