By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Stalking is his passion.
To any true film fan TV-Movies have always been considered vastly inferior to the theatrical kind and I would be the first to agree. However, there is one area where they can shine and that is in their depictions of true-life crimes. Mainly this is because they give it more time as they are usually shown in two parts over consecutive nights. Also, their lower budgets worked better in recreating the docu-drama style.
Over the years there have been some classics in this area that have helped bring substance to the headlines as well as a better understanding of the victims, the perpetrators and the investigation. Some of the best that I would suggest would be Helter Skelter (1976) starring the Emmy-award winning Steve Railsback as Charles Manson. The Deliberate Stranger (1986) with Mark Harmon as serial killer Ted Bundy. There is also Deadly Intentions (1985), A Death in California (1984) with Cheryl Ladd as a woman who falls in love with her rapist, and my personal favorite Fatal Vision (1984) about the infamous Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald.
This film deals with the case of Richard Farley (Richard Thomas) that helped develop California’s first anti-stalking laws. Farley was a pudgy, middle-aged man who worked as a computer programmer at a company named ESL in Sunnyvale, California in 1984. He had been there for 9 years and had no criminal record, but became unhinged when he met an attractive 23- year- old new employee named Laura Black (Brooke Shields). He began to follow her around constantly as well as sending her gifts and love letters on a daily basis. When she refused his advances he became even more persistent. This continued for 4 years until, through his obsession, he ended up losing his job, his house, and his entire life savings, but his stalking continued. Black finally filed a restraining order against him, which sent him into a rage. He armed himself with an array of guns, stormed the company and shot seven employees including Black, who managed to survive.
Unlike some of the previous movies that I mentioned above, this film did not get the two-part treatment. Everything that happened gets crammed into 95 minutes, which makes a lot of it seem rushed. Although the events took place over a four year period, the movie gives you the impression that it was just a few quick months. For the sake of time the film seems to leave certain interesting facts out, which is a shame. For instance, in real-life Farley actually stood in front of Black’s house for hours going through every conceivable combination on her garage door opener until he was finally able to crack it. There are also certain things that Farley expressed to Black through his letters that he ends up telling verbally to her here, which causes some of the dialogue to seem awkward.
The film was also not given much of a budget. It was filmed on a grainy, videotape type of film stock that looks like it was done on somebody’s camcorder. The story took place in California and yet for whatever reason it ended up being filmed in Topeka, Kansas and the differences in the landscapes are obvious and even a bit disconcerting.
Where the film really seems to come together is during the final 30 minutes where it recreates the office shooting. This sequence is well choreographed and makes you feel like you are right there. The conversations that Farley has with the negotiator during these scenes are revealing. I was confused after reading the accounts of the incident as to why Farley would have only shot Black once (in the shoulder) and then allowed her to escape. Apparently, through his conversations with the negotiator, this was his intention. He only wanted to injure her and then force her to survive so she would have to live with the ‘guilt’ of having ‘caused’ this by refusing to go out with him.
Another big selling point is the performances of the two leads. Richard Thomas as Farley is astounding. He does not resemble the actual Farley, but makes up for it with a convincing portrayal that leaves a lasting impression. Shields is excellent as well. Normally I never gave her much credit in the past, but found a new appreciation for her acting ability here. She does an especially good job during the scenes where she is shot and trying to escape. It seemed like she was genuinely stressed and in real pain.
Another thing I liked here is that the character of Laura Black is portrayed as being very determined, resourceful, and strong. She had to struggle with the company about this matter as initially they sided with Farley and was convinced that she must have ‘lead him on’. I felt it was a testament to her strength that she continued to keep working at the company and was still working there five years later when this film was made.
If you find true-life crimes to be intriguing and enjoy seeing them recreated to help your understanding of them, then TV-movies are you best source for this type of genre. I felt that this case, with its myriad of psychological implications, was no different.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: February 9, 1993
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Alternate Title: Stalking Laura
Director: Michael Switzer
Studio: Leonard Hill Films