"The Patty Hearst Story," a television movie that airs Sunday night at 8 on Channel 7, is a production that cries out a question, and the question is: "Why was I made?"
The public already knows the story all too well: that Patty and Steve were watching TV when she was carried away in her blue bathrobe by the SLA five years ago, and that the robbery of Mel's Sporting Goods store came after the Hibernia bank robbery. And we know that Patty gets caught in the end -- or recovered, depending on your point of view.
Indeed, a major problem of this production is that it has no clear point of view. Although ostensibly the story is FBI Special Agent Charles Bates' version, and therefore predictably sympathetic to his difficulties in catching Hearst, the movie avoids taking a position on the crucial question: Did Patty really become Tania? Instead it skirts annoyingly around it.
Dennis Weaver as Bates is his usual cornpone self, Det. McCloud on hunt for the newspaper heiress. A network press release notes that "There are similarities between Bates and Weaver... They are approximately the same age and both come from similar backgrounds. Bates is from Texas, and Weaver from Missouri by way of Oklahoma." Maybe that explains it.
The other performances are undistinguished, and written as cliches. The revolutionaries are scruffy and intense, the FBI agents clean except when undercover) and efficient. Lisa Eilbacher as Patty (the producer was looking for an actress who had "not been overexposed...") does what she can with what she is given to do, which is essentially three emotions -- terror, hysteria, and numbness.
Too much of the exposition of the story is delivered through the device of the media -- radio and television broadcasts. Hey, this is where we come in -- we listened to the real broadcasts.
This production is an excellent illustration of the fact that recreating news events is not "dramatization." Historical accuracy is not the same as interesting drama. "The Patty Hearst Story" reduces an incredible American saga to the level of "Policewoman" or "Emergency."