Plot: John Wayne Gacy (Brian Dennehy) is a respect businessman, active in social causes, and even performs for children as Pogo the Clown, so he stands as a pillar in his community. But beneath the veneer of normalcy, Gacy is a cold blooded killer who preys upon young men and boys. As Gacy enjoys time with his family, right under their feet rest the corpses of his victims, people he raped and murdered, then stuff into his own crawlspace to hide the evidence. While Gacy is careful, he has made mistakes and even been arrested for lesser crimes, a trail that Detective Kozenczak (Michael Riley) has followed to track down evidence. The path to Gacy has been a frustrating one, but Kozenczak and his team are determined to put an end to the murders, while Gacy finds himself under more and more scrutiny. Will Gacy evade justice as he has for years, or has his luck finally run out?
Entertainment Value: This made for television production spans three hours, divided into two feature length installments and for fans of procedural style true crime stories, To Catch a Killer has a lot to offer. I know some prefer a more active, visceral take on these kind of serial killer profiles, but I appreciated the more deliberate, character driven approach here. And while the pace is slower than most serial killer thrillers, the movie is never dull and to me, kept me hooked in from the start, despite knowing the story inside and out. To Catch a Killer proves you don’t need blood or graphic kills to make these true crime narratives grab your attention, crafting constant suspense and an eerie, unsettling vibe throughout. The focus is on one detective’s drive to put Gacy behind bars and while the movie takes some liberties with the real life events, that is to be expected in these dramatic adaptations. The tone is dark and serious, with some melodrama at times, but not much. I know this more grounded, procedural style isn’t going to dazzle all audiences, but I found To Catch a Killer to be well made and a solid take on one of the most infamous serial killers of all time.
I always look forward to seeing Brian Dennehy perform and this is such a wild role for him, as a notorious real life killer. Of course, Dennehy had been in similar roles before and had proven he could play the psychopath parts well, but it is still kind of surreal to see him as John Wayne Gacy here. I do think he veers a little more over the top than the real life version, but he is able to convey the shift between seemingly normal citizen and sadistic predator. I just think Gacy was able to evade capture for so long because his mask of sanity was so solid, whereas Dennehy kind of seems unhinged in general, just more so in the darker moments. Even so, it is a terrific performance filled with menace and creepiness, without question. I don’t think Dennehy gets the credit he deserves as a performer, he is a master of his craft. Michael Riley is also good as the dogged detective, while Margot Kidder and Meg Foster also have prominent roles, both turning in rock solid efforts. The cast also includes Cynthia Preston, Brett Halsey, Martin Julien, and Scott Hylands.