Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.
ActorsStarring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Bojana Novaković, Caitlin Carver, Maizie Smith, Mckenna Grace, Suehyla El-Attar, Jason Davis, Cory Chapman, Amy Fox, Cara Mantella, Joshua Mikel, Lynne Ashe, Steve Wedan, Anthony Reynolds, Ricky Russert, Miles Mussenden, Dan Triandiflou, Alphie Hyorth, Cassidy Balkcom, Fi Dieter
Tonya Harding was, as the movie points out, briefly the second most famous person in the world (after Bill Clinton). Growing up in poverty, the young Tonya had a passion for ice skating, and a rare talent for it too. Starting at the age of three, she practiced relentlessly, and in 1991 was US champion and world silver medallist, and became the first woman ever to land a triple axel in competition. Tonya, played by Margot Robbie, was encouraged and driven on by her hard-nosed mother, brilliantly played by Alison Janney. Tonya entered an abusive relationship with boy next-door Jeff Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan), who she married despite suffering considerable physical abuse at his hands.
The film sets up her difficult personal life skilfully, and does an impressive job of showing her actually skating, presumably enabled by the impressively long list of special effects staff in the movie credits. Tonya always felt that her redneck background held her back with skating judges, who perhaps were looking as much for an all-American hero to represent their country as a technically perfect skater. Her volatile temper and competitive streak brought her to the world’s attention in the build up to her competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics. Her main rival in the US team was fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. In circumstances that are not completely clear to this day, a plot was hatched to hobble Kerrigan by Tonya, her husband and his friend Shawn, notionally Tonya’s bodyguard but in reality a fantasist who lived with his parents. Kerrigan was duly attacked after skating practice and her knee badly injured, forcing her to withdraw from the national championship that was to act as a selection event for the US Olympic team.
The attack on Nancy Kerrigan gained global media notoriety, and it quickly became clear that Jeff and Shawn were deeply implicated, as was Tonya to a degree. All this is a matter of public record, and it is a tribute to the direction, script and acting that the films holds our attention although almost everyone in the audience knows the sequence of events. The director, Craig Gillespie (who made “Lars and the Real Girl”) conjures a remarkably entertaining film out of seemingly unpromising material. The film works partly because of a witty script that makes the most of the comic potential of the buffoonish plot against Kerrigan, which rapidly unravels. It is helped along by a fine central performance from Robbie, who portrays an unsympathetic character with considerable skill. Alison Janney’s performance as her foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mother is terrific, and indeed the whole cast is pitch perfect. The movie scythes along as incisively as a blade on ice.