The People vs. Larry Flynt Studio: Sony Pictures (distributed by Image) Year: 1996 Rated: R Length: 129 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Resolution: 1080p Languages: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish MSRP: $17.97 Film Release Date: December 25, 1996 Disc Release Date: April 5, 2011 Disc Review Date: April 21, 2011 Pros: Great, offbeat biopic with strong performances and direction; solid picture and sound Cons: Not all the extras from the DVD are retained “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” The Movie: 4/5 Ever since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting Congress from abridging the individual’s right to freedom of speech, religion, and the press, has been one of the key principles of our republic. But as times change, social mores change, and with those changes comes the inevitable debate on what aspects of these changes are protected by the First Amendment. The sexual revolution of the 1960s brought with it a proliferation of pornographic films, books, and magazines. Playboy had already been in publication since 1953, and while it a harbinger of things to come it was by no means the most explicit. Penthouse, which began publishing in 1965, rushed in where Playboy feared to tread. But Hustler and its colorful publisher, Larry Flynt, pushed the limits of free expression more than any other pornographer in the pre-internet era. In 1972, Kentucky-born Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson in an Oscar-nominated performance) and his brother Jimmy (Brett Harrelson, the star’s brother) are running the Hustler Club, an unprofitable go-go club in Cincinnati. Desperate to come up with a way to promote it, Larry decides to publish a newsletter with revealing pictures of the girls who dance there. When he decides to expand it to a full-color magazine, he still struggles to make a profit until a photographer sells him candid nudes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Dispensing with the literary and political pretensions of Playboy, Hustler’s lowbrow clientele makes it a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Meanwhile, he marries Althea (Courtney Love), a sexually adventurous girl who started as a dancer at the Hustler Club. By 1977, as Larry’s empire grows, he becomes a greater target for law enforcement and is prosecuted on charges of obscenity and organized crime. Althea hires a young lawyer, Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton), to defend him. In the first of many trials, Isaacman frames the case as a free speech issue, but this is not enough to persuade the jury to convict him and the judge (the real Larry Flynt) to sentence him to 25 years in prison without bail. After he gets out, he shrewdly exploits the media hype to paint himself as a First Amendment martyr, while President Carter’s sister Ruth (Donna Hanover) convinces him to become a born-again Christian, much to his wife’s—and his staff’s—chagrin. But his paralysis at the hands of a sniper makes him deny God and turn deeply into painkillers. Even after an operation alleviates his pain, his mental state deteriorates, and during a 1983 trial involving his refusal to reveal the source of a VHS tape he showed to a CBS reporter in which federal agents attempt to sell cocaine to John DeLorean, his petulant, childish antics land him in a psychiatric prison. In the 1980s, the tides have turned against the sexual revolution. As his beloved Althea wastes away from AIDS, Larry faces his biggest legal opponent yet: Reverend Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul), who is suing him for libel after finding himself the subject of a typically crude parody of a liquor ad which implied certain things between him and his mother. When Rev. Falwell goes on TV with some unkind words about “perverted lifestyles” and AIDS, he decides to take the case to the Supreme Court. The People vs. Larry Flynt is not about pornography per se. While it does not shy away from depicting the nude females and pornographic cartoons that are Hustler’s mainstay (though it does omit any cartoons that some have described as racist or sexist) it only does so to serve the plot. At its core, like director Milos Forman’s earlier One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Hair, it is about social outcasts fighting for freedom, the thing he came to America from his native Czechoslovakia to find. He does an admirable job directing the piece; in lesser hands it could have become a sanctimonious screed, an unsavory piece of exploitation, or a garish pastiche of 1970s clichés. For his restraint, realism, and aptitude of mixing humor, drama, and social conscience, he was honored with a third Oscar nomination. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski turn in a solidly structured and consistently compelling script. While the real Larry Flynt is hardly comparable to Patrick Henry, the movie makes you believe that he could be. Part of that is Woody Harrelson’s fine performance; he infuses Larry with an infectious country-boy charm, yet evokes a strong sense of pathos as he becomes more intuitive about politics while he simultaneously degenerates into madness as his paraplegia makes him unable to do what he loves best, while the pain drives him and his wife into drugs. As the freewheeling and reckless Althea, who states, “I’ll never be old and ugly,” Courtney Love does an admirable job conveying the tragedy of this self-fulfilling prophecy. In his breakthrough role, Edward Norton is excellent as the long-suffering attorney, while Richard Paul, known to TV fans as a game show panelist and character actor on numerous sitcoms, has the role of Rev. Falwell down pat. He not only looks the part but he perfectly captures the late televangelist’s beatific grin and stentorian fundamentalism. In terms of historical accuracy, I don’t expect movies to get the facts 100% correct, and The People vs. Larry Flynt does not. It condenses multiple figures in the true story into single characters, and omits Larry’s other wives—Althea was his fourth out of five—and his children, especially his daughter Tonya who became a Christian anti-porn activist who claimed he abused her. And while the movie claims otherwise, Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who objected to the magazine’s depiction of an interracial couple, confessed to the crime while in prison. But they’re far from the worst when it comes to sticking to the facts. The Video: 4/5 The film was shot in Panavision and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s cool, subdued color palette and low-key lighting are rendered accurately. Thankfully, there has been no attempt to use DNR to minimize the already subtle grain structure. It’s not demo material but it suits the film very well. The Audio: 4.5/5 The film’s soundtrack is presented as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The dialogue is clear and crisp, and the foley, with some exceptions, is subtle. The majority of the surround activity comes from Thomas Newman’s score and a mix of 1970s’ pop songs and classical pieces. The Extras: 3/5 While it was a cause for consternation when Image released a bare bones Blu-Ray of The Deep that replaced Sony’s feature-laden edition, I have good news and bad news about this disc. There are some extras retained from the special edition DVD that Sony released in 2003, but not all of them. There are not one, but two audio commentaries on this disc. The first is a cast commentary with Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, and Edward Norton, who are obviously recorded separately. Ms. Love has the most to say, but there is a fair bit of dead space on the track. The second, and by far more interesting, track is by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski. They reveal several interesting facts from their transition from noisy kiddie comedies like Problem Child to offbeat biographies like Tim Burton’s magnificent Ed Wood to dealing with the real Larry Flynt to get him to approve the film. Their pace never lags throughout the film, and it’s a very interesting insight into the art and craft of screenwriting. The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 480i at non-16x9 enhanced 1.85:1, obviously sourced from an older, composite videotape master. Finally, there are two deleted scenes in 480i and stereo (but not 16x9 enhanced), with optional commentary by Woody Harrelson and Larry Karaszewski. Neither of them were missed in the body of the film. Regarding the DVD extras not duplicated here, we lose two documentaries: “Free Speech or Porn” and “Larry Flynt Exposed”, a photo gallery, and a review of the film from the New York Times. Final Score: 3.5/5 The People Vs. Larry Flynt is an offbeat biopic of a controversial and larger than life public figure that is alternately funny, tragic, and meaningful, buoyed by top quality performances, a solid script, and expert direction. While it’s lamentable that not all the DVD extras made the jump to Blu-Ray, I am still grateful that this fine film got a respectable Blu-Ray transfer. It’s relatively low priced, so I recommend this Blu-Ray if you want a HD version of the film, and keep the Special Edition DVD for the extras if you are a completist.