Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt wages a lifelong battle against government censorship. Based on a true story. [ The People vs. Larry Flynt credits: Dir: Milos Forman/ Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton/ 130 min/ Drama, Biography/ Sexual Liberty, Freedom of Speech]
As this biopic tells it, Larry Flynt began his career in publishing by discovering accidentally an unmet demand in the marketplace for, well, boldly graphic erotica. He discovered almost at the same time why that demand had not already been satisfied. The government had scared off potential suppliers and distributors. But unlike some others before him, he did not back down to attempts to censor and ban his magazine. He deliberately chose instead to put his freedom on the line by waging a series of court battles that finally buttressed his and all of our rights to freedom of expression.
As dramatized here, the cost was high. At times Flynt faced prison sentences of up to twenty-five years, and he did spend some time in prison, was institutionalized at one point, and was later shot and thereby paralyzed by a gunman who was never caught. An obscene pornographer, outrageous in his manner, sometimes drugged, and sometimes even of questionable sanity, he may seem an unlikely hero. But Flynt’s dogged determination to defend his right to be as disagreeable as he pleased within the confines of his magazine will endear him to all First Amendment fans.
Woody Harrelson makes a delightful Flynt, at times outrageously libertine and at other times righteously libertarian. The film is surprisingly effective at building sympathy for Flynt and, by its end, is even a little touching. Not all of its roughly two hours are used to full effect, but overall it’s fair entertainment.
Above all, The People vs. Larry Flynt is a consistently favorable free press film that not only makes no apologies for obscene print content, but in fact defends it as at least preferable to violent print content, which by contrast meets with relatively few objections. It’s an absolute must-see for First Amendment fans.
“‘If they’ll protect a scumbag like me, then they’ll protect all of you,’ Flynt said after his 1987 court victory. Inelegant, but true. Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt argues that the freedom of speech must apply to unpopular speech, or it is meaningless. Beginning with this belief, Forman constructs a fascinating biopic about a man who went from rags to riches by never overestimating the taste of his readers.”