Based on the sensational true-life murder investigation of Thomas Capano, Genius Entertainment, as part of their Best-Selling Authors: Books on Film DVD series, has released the excellent 2001 TV miniseries, Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go, starring Mark Harmon in another riveting true-crime performance, and Kathryn Morris, from TV's Cold Case. Running almost three hours long, Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go has plenty of time to fully explore the manipulative, psychotic nature of Capano, while providing a smashing, entertaining mini.
Told with a framing device of having Anne Marie Fahey's (Kathryn Morris) diary (which was leaked to the press during the investigation) read aloud (as well as Anne Marie, speaking from beyond the grave, during the second half of the film), Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go tells the harrowing true tale of sad, lonely, love-starved Anne Marie Fahey, a good Catholic girl from Wilmington, Delaware who works for the governor of the state, and who is pursued by a master emotional manipulator, Thomas Capano. Capano, a politically connected lawyer (he was a state prosecutor and well-respected political consultant) and member of a powerful, influential family of building contractors and developers, is married with four daughters when he first begins seeing Fahey. However, Capano is not cheating on his wife exclusively with Fehey, having set up another lover, Christine Sheve (Rachel Ward) years before.
Fahey, vulnerable and starved for someone to call her own, is easy prey for Capano, but soon, she begins to question the wisdom of the relationship, not only because it goes against her religious upbringing, but also because her psychiatrist helps her realize that she may indeed be substituting her problematic feelings for her distant, abusive father, onto Capano, who excels in making himself useful to Anne - in exchange for totally controlling her life. Health concerns also plague Fahey, who is starving herself with diuretics, in a bid to exert some control over a small part of her life. Once she meets nice guy Daniel Chapman (Rick Roberts), she tries to break it off with Capano, who refuses to let the relationship go.
Soon, Anne disappears, and federal investigators are called in (no doubt because Fahey is a federal employee closely connected with the state governor). Colm Connolly (Steven Eckholdt), a U.S. Attorney on his first murder investigation, is aided by local cop, Detective Frank Gugliatta (Paul Michael Glaser), as they both begin a dogged investigation to bring down the powerful, connected Capano - an investigation made difficult because there is no body, and public opinion is firmly behind the altruistic Capano, and against Fahey, whose leaked diaries paint a one-sided portrait of a consenting young woman with emotional problems. Meticulously gathering evidence, while getting lucky breaks from the likes of Capano's brother, Gerry (David Hewlett), who is implicated in the crime, the two detectives move in to make an arrest.
Like a steadily ticking metronome, Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go takes its time and carefully builds a picture of Capano as a truly sick individual, capable of manipulating and using women capriciously, without regard to their feelings, all in an effort to maintain an air of absolute power and control. In a theory postulated by the detectives, Capano does this because his father was such an over-achiever, something his hectoring mother (Olympia Dukakis) won't ever let him forget. To equal his father's material success (something Capano could never do, since his father started off in a new country without a dime), Capano has turned to emotional manipulation as an indicator of his prowess, feeding on the weak and vulnerable women he comes into contact with, for his own personal gratification.
Equally thorough is the examination of Anne Marie Fahey, who comes off as a sweet, lonely girl, entirely too trusting of Capano's actions (made forgivable by her youth and her emotionally fraught upbringing), who eventually becomes quite strong in her conviction to break things off with Capano - which unfortunately seals her fate (Morris is excellent in conveying that dewy softness, yet burgeoning self-will to resist him). One of the benefits of the long-form TV miniseries is that, if it's well written, quite a bit of character background can be built and examined over the extended run time - something that can't always be done in feature films. And Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go is just that: extremely well-written and directed, with a precise, calculated design that effortlessly shifts back and forth between victim, killer and investigators as the viewer is inexorably drawn into the realization of the enormity of Capano's crime.
Fans of Family Guy already know that Peter Griffin has dubbed "Mahk Hahmon" as "the greatest actor that has ever lived," but in all seriousness, this affable leading man, often wasted in light, throwaway parts, apparently is most at home playing amoral sociopaths. Certainly his best performance was as Ted Bundy, the serial killer you'd most like to bring home to Mom and Dad, in 1986's The Deliberate Stranger. In that film, Harmon's almost gee-whiz, sunny disposition could switch instantly to a cold, blank nothingness that was truly frightening. Here, presented with another true-life murderer, Harmon, a little older, a little more controlled and subtle as an actor, paints a vivid, scary portrait of a carefully compartmentalized, master manipulator who can not stop collecting women in an effort to satisfy his own ego and feed his need to help/control them. Harmon, sure and confident when Capano needs to impress people with his power, is equally creepy and cajoling as he constantly lies to the people in his life to get his own way (watch him convince a truly repulsed Rachel Ward to pick up a guy at a bar, so he can watch them make love). It's an unsettling, tricky performance, and he rolls with it, making Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go one of the best true-crime television miniseries I've seen in quite some time.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.