Incendiary. Forceful. Incredible. The People vs. Larry Flynt took on a larger than life subject with gusto and bravado, with director Milos Forman plunging neck-deep into the smut and kinky fun that accompanied the hard-living life of exuberant Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt, brilliantly portrayed by Woody Harrelson in a performance that’s nothing less than a tour de force. This film absolutely ripped my head open at the age of 16 when I viewed it theatrically, and ov…er the years, I’ve remained fascinated by the film, due in no small part to the fabulous, three decade spanning screenplay by masters of the biopic Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. This is a raucous, ribald, and totally righteous film about an outrageously insatiable man, with a personality the size of Texas, and a sex drive to equal it. Co-starring the perfectly cast Courtney Love as Flynt’s long suffering romantic companion Althea, Forman populated the edges of his film with a sterling acting ensemble, including Edward Norton as Flynt’s crusading lawyer, James Cromwell as the venal Charles Keating, Richard Paul in a hilarious performance as scumbag Jerry Falwell, Vincent Schiavelli and Crispin Glover as magazine cohorts, and Donna Hanover in a sickeningly awesome performance as Ruth Carter Stapleton.
Forman’s effortlessly natural storytelling sense was on firm display all throughout, with the tone bouncing back and forth between jovial fun to serious darkness. This film is scene after scene of terrific filmmaking, crafted by an intelligent director who seemingly paid attention to every single element that went into his films. And most importantly, it was a warts and all exploration of a man who lived life according to his own terms, a project fully sanctioned by Flynt, who also made a disturbingly ironic cameo as the judge who sentenced him to prison. The velvety cinematography by Philippe Rousselot was in perfect tandem with Patrizia von Brandenstein’s evocative production design, all pulled together by Thomas Newman’s pensive score and the swift editing of Christopher Tellefsen. The film received excellent reviews but, sort of unsurprisingly, stalled out at the box office, no doubt hampered by the potentially alienating subject matter and the mostly prudish, immature attitudes of mainstream audiences. But it’s a tremendous entertainment, and a film with much to say about free speech and freedom of expression, still feeling relevant and important today just as it did 20 years ago.