This blazing film carries a serious, endangered message: "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech."


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The People vs. Larry Flynt" bursts onto the screen, an explosive movie whose sparks spray into our contemporary culture. This blazing film carries a serious, endangered message: "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech." If the true test of the First Amendment is always the tough, nasty case, surely Larry Flynt is the perfect messenger.

On the chance of being heard before the Supreme Court, Flynt's Lawyer says, "They'll never pick you, Larry, because you're a nightmare." They did take his case, of course, and William Rehnquist wrote the unanimous decision upholding Flynt's right to publish the pornography that made his "Hustler" magazine famous.

Director Milos Forman, who spent his childhood under the heel of both the Nazis and the Communists, brings to this movie the passion of a man who knows how quickly the free flow of information can erode under attack by moralists. He has made a film that is original and absorbing from first frame to last, and he uses Flynt's ugly images to remind us that "Hustler" is a small price to pay for freedom.

With wife Althea (Courtney Love) as his muse, Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson) spins his shabby strip club into a magazine empire built on outrage. The continuous stream of ugliness--a woman being fed to a meat grinder, a fork and a plate of dung, sex with the Tin Man and Santa Claus--inevitably attracts the rage of the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Falwell, with the puritanical criminal, Charles Keating, at his side, brings Flynt to court.

As opponents, Flynt and Falwell are the perfect couple: Flynt, the idea-a-minute smut peddler, and Falwell, the fatuous evangelist who knows what's best for America. At stake, yet again, the First Amendment. Wearing an American flag as a diaper in court, the hustler mocks the beast of censorship and wins. "If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you, because I'm the worst." He got that right, on every count.

If it seems bizarre to suggest that Milos Forman has made a moving story of the unrepentant porn king and his drug-addicted wife, be warned. Somehow, and with great subtlety, the director, his writers, and his actors have managed to show Flynt and Althea bound together in a very rare form of old-fashioned loyalty. We have no way of knowing if this was the truth of their lives, but on film it has surprising power. With the single reservation that both Falwell and Flynt are portrayed as less awful than their real selves, it can easily be said that this film is both a breezy entertainment and a provocative lesson.

Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love deliver powerhouse performances, but it is Milos Forman's vision that makes the movie soar. The nine justices of the A Team have ruled for freedom over "community standards." Mr. Forman has reminded us powerfully that nothing in the Constitution protects us from outrage.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Columbia Pictures
Rating : NR
Running Time: 2h9m

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