“All I’m guilty of is bad taste.”
The Miles Forman film The People Vs. Larry Flynt sketches the early life of Hustler magazine owner, the colourful Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson) from his youth in Kentucky in the 50s to the explosive trials of the 70s and 80s. 10 year old Larry exploits the human vices by selling moonshine in the back woods of Kentucky, and by the early 70s, Flynt and his brother Jimmy run a Hustler strip club. Flynt ambitiously begins the Hustler magazine, and while his fortunes soar, so do his legal problems.
The People Vs. Larry Flynt concentrates on Flynt’s legal problems and Flynt’s unconventional marriage to stripper Althea (Courtney Love). This is a brilliant piece of filmmaking–with no scenes wasted, and clearly the director remains in control of what so easily could be a very messy story. A tightly focused script, inspired casting, and fantastic performances create a highly entertaining film.
The film never loses sight of the controversial nature of Flynt’s business, and the ugly side of Flynt’s private life is in contrast to the ideals–yes, ideals that Flynt bet his life on. He was willing to go to jail again–and again–for what he believed in. In Flynt’s code of ethics, it was perfectly ok to not like what he did, but unacceptable to stop him printing it. Entertaining courtroom scenes depict how far Flynt was willing to go to protect his first amendment rights. Flynt’s Don Quixote mode of impaling himself on the American legal system to make his point is underscored by his question: “What is more obscene: Sex or War?” The film also manages to weave in the fact that the now infamous Charles Keating (Savings and Loan scandal) was a nemesis of Flynt’s and was involved in attempts to send the millionaire pornographer to jail. Flynt had a point when he struggled so hard against the establishment, and one ultimately respects the man for his stand. Flynt’s long suffering lawyer Alan Isaacman is played by Edward Norton.
Woody Harrelson offers a great performance as Flynt–it’s impossible to imagine any other actor taking this role and making it his own with quite the same finesse as Harrelson. Harrelson’s performance lends a light comic touch to a very serious and sometimes tragic story. Courtney Love is phenomenal as the doomed Althea Flynt. If you liked Boogie Nights or Rated X, then there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy this film too.