Courtesy Photo
Directed by Milos Foreman

Starring Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson, Donna Hanover, James Cromwell and Crispin Glover.

"The People vs. Larry Flynt"

Opened: Dec. 27, 1996 | Rated: R

Wow. Courtney Love can act. I mean, she's playing a morally corrupt, trampy, strung-out junkie, so it's not like she's stretching, but she is magnificent as Althea Flynt, the wife of porn magnate and that icon of the American way (at least in this movie), Larry Flynt.

But don't bank on Academy recognition. Everyone who has seen her reading cue cards badly in "Basquiat" or "Feeling Minnesota" knows it was director Milos Foreman who orchestrated this minor tour de force. Really, any six-figure actress in the greater metro LA area could have played this part.

Regardless, Love is an important contributor to "The People vs. Larry Flynt," the grandstanding First Amendment drama that brought Foreman back to Hollywood with his wily ways.

Like his "Amadeus" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," this picture is a classic man-against-the-establishment set-up that is adroitly turned into a commentary on repression and freedom in our society.

Flynt, born in a Kentucky shack to a moonshining pop and a grits-cooking mom, grows up to open a strip bar, bang all his dancers and thus have a pornographic epiphany that challenges the country's morals and American's rights to be as nasty as they wanna be.

Woody Harrelson is impeccable as Flynt -- vile but charismatic, shallow but sympathetic. He is a far more capable actor than most of his previous roles have allowed him to demonstrate. He plays the ugly side of Flynt softly, spinning him into almost an Everyman with a simple dream who inadvertently becomes a noble warrior against censorship.

After starting Hustler as an advertising handout for his Ohio strip clubs Flynt begins to see the market for a low-brow Playboy (since nobody buys Playboy for the articles, anyway). Unsuccessful at first, due in part to reluctant newsstand owners, Hustler takes off after publishing nude paparazzi snaps of Jacqueline Onassis.

After establishing this history, the film focuses on Flynt's relationship with his wife, who died of AIDS after becoming addicted to heroin, and his court battles (and related antics) that set a legal precedent in regards to journalism and public figures.

Because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, there are some moments that require a science fiction-like suspension of disbelief.

After Flynt is shot and paralyzed by a sniper outside a Georgia courtroom, he becomes addicted to heroin and pain-killers. But after an operation to diffuse the pain, he quits cold turkey and just says no to drugs. Um, sure...

Meanwhile Althea is still addicted and starts a downward spiral that really gives Love something to chew on.

Edward Norton ("Primal Fear") gives a measured performance as Flynt's long suffering, sand-bagged lawyer. After seeing him in two such varied roles (and Woody Allen's new musical) he is definitely the most promising actor to arrive in 1996.

While "The People vs. Larry Flynt" has that Milos Foreman touch that is remarkable all on it's own, the script puts such a gloss on Flynt's sexism that it feels like he is trying to force a fairy tale flavor onto what is essentially a tome about the rights of pornographers as journalists.

These rights are something that are tantamount to the freedoms we enjoy in America, but Foreman's film feels sugar-coated -- sure it's about emotionally and morally fractured people, Foreman seems to say, but they're nice fractured people.

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