Talhotblond is the kind of story that you would think could only be manufactured in a Hollywood pitch meeting: An internet love triangle that ultimately spirals out of control and results in a brutal murder. It’s a story filled with love, passion, deceit, rage, and violence. You can practically see studio executives foaming at the mouth while the pitchman delivers the goods. The scary thing is that this particular story isn’t fiction.
Talhotblond is the terrifyingly true story about the worst that can happen if you develop relationships with strangers on the internet. The documentary, directed by Emmy award winning journalist Barbara Schroeder, was the winner of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Best Documentary Grand Jury Award in 2009. My full review after the jump:
Talhotblond tells the story of a beautiful high school student named Jessi (screen name: Talhotblond) who falls in love with Tommy (screen name: Marinesniper), the young Marine she meets in an online chat room. It’s the perfect fairytale. That is, until Jessi finds out that Tommy is really 47-year-old Thomas Montgomery, an unhappily married man. After this revelation, Jessi seeks both comfort and revenge through 22 year-old Brian Barrett, a co-worker of Montgomery’s. The love triangle cultivates through a series of online discussions between the three. Despite the fact that neither man actually ever meets Jessi, serious jealousy and rage ultimately lead Montgomery to murder Barrett.
The story is certainly an intriguing one. The film, well…not as intriguing. Schroeder uses the late Barrett’s point of view to tell the story. It’s an interesting choice, but a difficult method of storytelling because no one can actually know what Barrett was thinking throughout the evolution of this tragedy. This method of narration takes what is an already engrossing true story and adds an unnecessary layer of fiction on top of it. Along with Barrett’s voiceover, Schroeder uses numerous chat logs between Talhotblond, marinesniper, and Beefcake (Barrett) to move the story forward, which ends up making the film just seem like an extended episode of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator. Schroeder uses commentary from Erie County officials, as well as from clinical psychologist, Dr. Rex Julian Beaber, for further insight into why everyone involved acted the way they did in this particular situation.
Highlights of the documentary include in depth interviews with convicted murderer, Montgomery, Barrett’s parents, and with Jessi’s father, Tim Shieler. Montgomery seems remorseful, but ultimately feels that Jessi was equally at fault for driving him to commit such a terrible crime. Shieler is genuine in how horrified he was to find out what was going on without his knowledge. He provides a layer of sympathy as someone who, although unaware and clueless about what was going on, will forever be affected by the final result.
In my opinion, the story plays out better as a TV special that you might catch on a Friday or Saturday night. Considering the fact that MSNBC bought the film’s television rights, it shouldn’t be too long before it becomes one. I wouldn’t necessarily run out to see it on DVD, but I would highly recommend tuning in if it pops on TV and you have an hour and half to spare.