Is it weird that, to this day, I idolize Larry Flynt?
Some may argue the cases involving his free speech rights merely reflect hubris and a desire for free publicity. Some (all right, most) vilify Flynt due to his contributions to the pornographic industry, but I personally have nothing but respect for the man and what he has stood for over the years, both good and bad. A real life antihero, Flynt's extreme, crude, boundary pushing message, both inside and outside of his infamous Hustler publication, has been a real inspiration for me, and I find it truly bizarre that the public subsequently fawns over Hugh Hefner and his purported highbrow brand of smut.
Flynt's life is full of interesting, no, bizarre stories, so it should be to no surprise that the 1996 film from Milos Forman ('One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' 'Amadeus') is an fascinating and warped tale.
Sadly, the film is not perfect, for a number of reasons. The heavily skewed telling of events, overly sensationalized for dramatic effect, can leave one desiring a more straight forward, less kind portrayal of a very controversial man. While we see Flynt (portrayed by Woody Harrelson) come from humble, poor Kentucky upbringings to later live the definition of the highlife, touching on his business ventures, controversies, and personal life, so much seems conventionalized, altered, to the point that it cannot be defined as a biopic as much as it is a satire itself, ironic as that may be. Forman's next film, the limitlessly hilarious and touching 'Man on the Moon' Andy Kaufman biopic, would prove that the director not only had more in him, but also that the writing pair of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also penned 'Ed Wood') learned from the experience and created a superiorly crafted and paced film.
The lack of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is a killer. Yes, we get an unabashed look at Althea Flynt (Courtney Love), Larry's fourth wife, and her own set of problems, including addiction and later AIDS, but the look at the man who loved her is so heavily idealized, so twisted and condensed that it leaves too little to the imagination, and puts too much false information out there for the sake of convenience. Key story points are combined, to create these "magic moments" where the planets and stars are all aligned and we get the pinnacle of one event and the beginning of another, or two (or more) of either of those points at once, which can be a bit hard to swallow. Heck, other details are excised entirely, like the existence of three wives prior to Althea. Additionally, the portrayal of the man himself comes across as more bi-polar than history has proven, with key moments exaggerated and turned into blatant lies in order to have a more complete story, in terms of its narrative structure.
But, that's all the griping I have for the film. It's time to lob some praise at 'The People vs Larry Flynt', and the obvious go-to is the performances. Sure, Harrelson probably got a ton of time with the real Flynt (who cameos as a judge early in the film), much like Johnny Depp did with the real Hunter S. Thompson for 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' That doesn't change the fact that his performance is an out of the park home run. It's the small things that sell Harrelson here, the expressions, the mannerisms, heck, even the post-stroke change in pronunciation (which is not shown on film, but is depicted to those paying attention) that make this something worth watching. Sure, it's a bit odd seeing the ripped, handsome actor as Flynt, but once you separate yourself from the reality of the performer versus the performance, you'll see a man truly leaping into someone else's skin.
Love is no joke, either, even if her career (and life) have been utter madness since this film came out. It would be cruel to the real Althea to say "who better than Love to...", but really, the most unflinching, honest portrayal of a person in the film is that of Larry's wife. While nudity is on display aplenty, it's not about sex appeal, here. The character is more than pain killers and bisexuality, and is the driving force of the film. Edward Norton's turn as Larry's lawyer, or four or five, all rolled into one, may fool you at first. You think, for a moment, that Norton, so early in his career, isn't nailing the part. He seems off, awkward, timid. But as the film rolls on, the lawyer turns into someone more sure of himself, of his dialogue. It's all an act, the craft of an actor, and damn if Norton isn't astounding here. Also worth noting: holy heck is Crispin Glover a convincing pothead! Keep an eye out for his eye(s)!
'The People vs Larry Flynt' is not an all-encompassing doc picture of a troubled, possibly disturbed pioneer of sorts. It's a glamorized, polished, sanitized flick that cuts out the down and dirty. It also misses one of the most interesting aspects of the life of Larry Flynt, as the man who was one of his greatest rivals, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, ended up touring with him at speaking engagements, let alone at another legal battle or two. Should a biopic, or even a quasi-biopic, be made while a subject is still alive, with potential chapters to be written? Probably not, but that policy would prevent us from having this flick, a fine film that has to be taken at face value, and then researched for the full truth of the matters portrayed.
With a 1080p 2.35:1 framed AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'The People vs Larry Flynt' comes to Blu-ray looking like...nothing special, good or bad. It looks like a catalog title that didn't get a whole lot of love, but also one that doesn't have nagging cleanliness issues making it a travesty. Detail levels vary, never truly bold and powerful, though soft shots aren't all that plentiful either. The picture does occasionally get a slight haze, which can be annoying, though. Noise is a fairly constant contributor, while black crush is a much less frequent, less obvious visitor.
The grain levels are a bit frustrating, as the picture is either grain free and very deep, or just slightly grainy, but lacking in any depth or scope. Skin tones are similarly troubled, coming through occasionally over-flushed (not counting Love's makeup to make her look pale), then randomly exhibiting an appearance of excessive rouge application. The picture has some random shakiness, which, in at least three occasions, reaches a boiling point and the picture just goes off the rails with its wobble, so it's obvious this slop is caused by an old transfer. Also worth noting, in the establishing shots for the Georgia trial, the picture has some amazingly noticeable brightness flutters and flashes.
It's not a strikeout, by any means, and this disc is miles ahead of some of the slop being passed off as catalog fare by some studios, but it most certainly could have looked better.
Image's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for 'The People vs Larry Flynt', the only movie track on the disc, has its moments to shine, more so than you'd expect from this particular film, but it also has a few nagging issues that can be quite frustrating as the runtime adds up.
Dialogue reproduction isn't perfect, with some random static, hollowness, tin, and a few difficult to distinguish moments, while volume spikes can be annoying due to how dramatic they are. Localized effects are hardly utilized, as are movement, with the rear channels getting random bombardments that feel overly forced and melodramatic. The film is entirely front heavy, with a few legitimate, valid uses of the rears (other than music saturation), and these attempts to create a bigger track, much like the film, exacerbate and exaggerate the situation a bit much.
The two documentaries from the 2003 DVD Special Edition double dip are nowhere on this disc.
'The People vs Larry Flynt' is hardly the perfect "biopic," especially since it isn't one. It's a weird mixture of documentary and dramatization, with hints of comedy thrown in. The truth by itself would have been funny enough, and the reality of the situation would have been dramatic enough, so I just don't get it. I still love this film, though, flaws be damned. The Image Entertainment release of the film has average presentation qualities, and a good amount of extras for a cheap release. I recommend this film to anyone willing to give Larry Flynt a chance. Anyone easily offended may want to steer clear, as the subject matter is a touchy one.