Director: Milos Forman
Here’s a movie I’d really love to love, but that I ultimately am unable to. I have respect for it, maybe even admiration, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t work with me. “The People Versus Larry Flynt” is a film about the all too important issue that is freedom speech, and it intelligently argues for that constitutional right. Hence, I guess the reason the film was hailed by critics all over is that they agreed with the film’s message and felt driven to support it. I too love what the picture says, but I still think that this is an uneven, oddly constructed and flawed movie.
Who doesn’t know Larry Flynt, America’s bad boy. The head of a billion dollar porn industry revolving around the infamous Hustler magazine, Flynt also is one hell of a loudmouth who barked for freedom of speech all the way to the Supreme Court. But what do we really know about Larry Flynt? Director Milos Forman and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski tried to understand this very complex man by making this obviously controversial movie. Have they succeeded? Well, the film does put the pieces together, yet it left me even more puzzled about its character. It’s like, we witness various events of his life, but we never get inside his head and get to figure out exactly why he does what he does. First, we briefly see Flynt as a kid, already eager for a quick buck, even if he has to make potato alcohol to get it. The film then jumps 20 years later, as our good man (portrayed very well by Woody Harrelson) is now the owner of, what else, a strip joint. And then, through circumstances the film hardly explains, Flynt creates Hustler magazine. I would have liked to see how he actually put his empire together, but all we’re told is that Flynt wanted to put together a porno mag that dared to give men what they wanted without pretending to be about classy lifestyle and articles like Playboy. And well, it seems people were up for it cause, before you know it, Flynt has become this rich, rich guy.
So far, I’m not impressed. As a biopic, this is a rather lazy hack job. The film is all over the place, it picks here and there in Flynt’s life, keeps jumping in time… That’s not a bad thing per se, but do it right for God’s sake! Movies like “Forrest Gump” and “Goodfellas” also span over great periods of time, but through what you see of their character’s lives, you get to really know them. “The People Versus Larry Flynt” doesn’t even bother to explore Flynt, maybe because he’s such a shady character who’s not too eager to reveal things about himself. I also felt that Forman was kind of afraid of his subject. He doesn’t go smack in the middle of the Hustler universe, he’s just peeking at it, flipping through it at a newsstand. Just compare the film to “Private Parts” or “Boogie Nights”, which weren’t afraid to embrace their controversial themes.
Still, for all its flaws, The People Versus Larry Flynt does have some big strengths. As I said, it brings up the hot debate around freedom of speech. People like religious leader Jerry Falwell and other naysayers keep trying to pervert the idea of freedom. They want everyone to subscribe to their idea of what is moral and right, those fascist pigs. Can’t they understand that freedom means that you live and let live? If you think Hustler is junk, don’t read it. But don’t try to make it illegal and stop others from enjoying it. A great deal of the film is about that. Through his life, Larry Flynt has been often brought to Court who think he’s the Antichrist or something. It’s amusing and uplifting to see what a badass and an arrogant prick Flynt can be. I don’t know it it’s all for real, but I got a kick out of watching him insult judges, wear army gear and the American flag as a diaper to a trial, and doing all sorts of wacky things. Woody Harrelson is very good as Flynt. He portrays him as a man who is sorta sleazy, often an asshole, but nonetheless a bright, sensible man with a lot of honesty and integrity, and the balls to stand up for his beliefs..
More kudos to Edward Norton, who plays Flynt’s lawyer, a guy who sure had a lot of work on his hands. His client keeps getting into trouble, and when he gets to court he only makes matters worse. Norton’s character isn’t much developed (we just see him as a good attorney), but Norton makes him very compelling. Well, next to a scumbag like Flynt, anyone looks decent! Remains that Norton is very good, especially when he argues in court. His speech in front of the Supreme Court is especially memorable. Let’s not forget (as if we could) rocker Courtney Love, who delivers a surprisingly brave and affecting performance as Flynt’s wife Althea. It’s an extremely difficult role. The woman’s an orphan turned lesbian turned underage stripper, who then marries the head of a porn empire, witnesses an assassination attempt on him that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down, sinks into drugs, gets AIDS… Through all this hell, Love remains human and moving, and it’s very wrenching to see her beauty decay. Overall, the three superior performances and the worthy message it supports make “The People Versus Larry Flynt” a movie well worth seeing, but it surely could have been more consistent. A mixed review, but still a recommendation.