The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

Directed by Milos Forman
Written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

In my limited experience with director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest & Amadeus), I have noted that he does not seem to have a signiature style. There is nothing flashy about the style of the films he directs. However, he no less brilliant for a lack of flashy style. On the contrary, he seems to be all the better for it, because he is able to focus simply on the storytelling, which is the strongest point in all of his films which I have seen and the most important aspect of any film. The People vs. Larry Flynt is no different from his other films in that regard.

The film is, of course, about the life of Larry Flynt, who is best known as the publisher of the adult magazine Hustler, which makes no attempt to be the “classy” publication which Hugh Hefner’s Playboy claims to be. The film opens on Flynt as an enterprising young boy in Kentucky, selling moonshine to his neighbors. Then we get the start-up story for Hustler, which began as a string of clubs and then a “newsletter” in Cincinnati, Ohio before it blew up to the full-fledged magazine it is now. But Flynt (Woody Harrelson) begins to have to battle the media as well as the law for what he feels are his constitutional freedoms. He teams up with the equally crazy Althea (Courtney Love) and the young lawyer Isaacman (Edward Norton).

What makes this film so interesting and important is the subject matter with which it deals. We are dealing with a pornographer who takes no shame in the shameful publications he produces. So what is so interesting or important about that? Well, the fact that he can do it, and equally that we, as consumers, can choose what we want and what we don’t. There were loads of people against Flynt, thus “The People”. Isaacman himself admits that he doesn’t like what Flynt does, yet he defends him all the way to the Supreme Court because he believes in his right to do it. America is a great country and the freedoms we are afforded is one of the things that makes it great, so it is equally important to defend those rights when they are infringed upon.

Forman does such a great job of just letting the story almost tell itself. It is obviously based on a true story, so these are all events that have happened and in a certain chronological order, so in that regard the screenwriters and Forman don’t have much to do, but Forman just knows when and where everything goes and how to make the story flow and make it pop off the screen. At the same time he is also great at getting great performances from his cast. Harrelson is a good actor, though not the best, be he seems so fit to play the part of Flynt and delivers a great performance. At the same time Courtney Love as Althea is a great surprise. Love is not known for her acting prowess, but she seems the perfect actress to play the sex crazed, drug addicted stripper who fell in love with Flynt. Edward Norton, on the other hand, is an actor I very much enjoy and here is no different.

Forman is three for three in my book. He just makes these stories so vibrant and entertaining. I really enjoyed this film, and yet it still pulls in behind Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I am definitely looking forward to further exploration of Forman’s films.

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