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The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Rated R

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, and Edward Norton

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Larry Flynt was never a name that I recognized with the immediacy of, say, Hugh Hefner or Bob Guccione. Not that those names incur recognition for everyone, but I will confess to reading at least a few of each of their respective publications. I'd been wanting to see this film since it was released to theaters, but the local cineplex decided not to screen it until I'd practically forgotten about it and then only for a single week.

However, with the release of this movie in 1996, Flynt practically became a household name. This film chronicles his rise from a Cincinnati strip club owner to the publisher of one of the most controversial adult magazines available to the public. Flynt decided to take his strip club's newsletter and turn it into a full fledged magazine with nude pictures and stories that catered to those that couldn't relate to the relatively high-brow text found in Playboy. Hustler magazine initially teetered on bankruptcy until Flynt stirred controversy by printing photos that allegedly showed Jackie Onassis nude. After that, Flynt continued to stir controversy by taking anything that the general public held sacred and turning it into something vulgar. (Example: Hustler printed risqué cartoons that involved characters from The Wizard of Oz or Santa Claus). Public reaction took many forms of outrage, including an attempt on Flynt's life which left him paralyzed from the waist down.

With his wife, Althea (Courtney Love), and brother, Jimmy (Brett Harrelson), in tow, Flynt positioned the magazine to take on the world. But, when the magazine ran a parody of a liquor ad that takes shots at Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul), leader of the Moral Majority, during the conservative Reagan years, Falwell slaps Flynt with a libel suit which leads to an eventual showdown in the Supreme Court.

Larry Flynt, as played by Woody Harrelson, is at once endearing and repulsive. Harrelson deserved his Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for his performance. His depiction of Flynt's deterioration over the years is wonderfully handled. The pain, both emotional and physical, is visible on his face. But Harrelson never makes Flynt out to be a hero of mythic proportions. He simply is a man that feeds the public what he feels it wants to see.

Courtney Love's drug-addled Althea may not seem like much of a stretch for some people, but it is a great performance and I'd love to see her in more films. She stumbles around a lot but doesn't over do the drugged-out behavior and manages to remain likable through most of the film in much the same odd way that Harrelson's Larry Flynt does.

Edward Norton, as the Flynts' lawyer, Alan Issacman, is also part of the formula that makes this movie so good. He can't stand to see Flynt make a mockery of the courtroom, but can't refuse the man when his legal services are needed. A winning performance, if a bit smallish in terms of screen time, that could have been a throwaway part if someone else had played it.

Director Milos Forman turns what could have been a damning documentation of the magazine's alleged obscenity into a rousing anti-censorship tract. That's not a bad thing at all. The strong performances make this a movie to watch for on the video store shelf.

Trivia: An advertisement in one issue of Hustler shows a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer of JFK. Woody Harrelson's has publically stated that his late father was possibly one of the hobos mentioned in Jim Garrison's book about the assassination and possible conspiracy. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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