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Based on the true story of the notorious Hustler publisher who was sued by the Religious Right and paralyzed by a fanatic's bullet, The People Vs. Larry Flynt is a stranger-than-fiction comedy about one man's outrageous public persona and eccentric private life. Chronicling Flynt's raunchy business savvy, his wildly controversial marriage and his infamous courtroom antics, The People Vs. Larry Flynt is "the most scintillating and outrageous message movie of the decade. An ultrapop masterpiece!" -Playboy Magazine

Milos Forman
Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson, Donna Hanover, James Cromwell, Crispin Glover
Writing Credits:
Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

You may not like what he does, but are you prepared to give up his right to do it?
Rated R for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 5/13/2003

• Audio Commentary With Actors Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love and Edward Norton
• Audio Commentary With Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
• “Free Speech or Porn?” Featurette
• “Larry Flynt Exposed” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes With Optional Filmmakers’ Commentary
• Theatrical Trailers
• Filmographies

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The People vs. Larry Flynt: Special Edition (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 30, 2003)

When one considers Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, the term “infamous” comes immediately to mind. An outrageous self-described “smut peddler”, Flynt made a name for himself as a crude and obnoxious pornographer. Who knew he’d eventually impact Constitutional law?

1996’s The People Vs. Larry Flynt follows that development. Actually, the movie functions as a general biography, but it focuses on his legal shenanigans to a large degree. The flick starts with a prologue set in Kentucky circa 1952. There we see the child version of Flynt (Cody Block) as he makes bucks peddling moonshine in his backwoods environment.

From there the movie quickly jumps to 1972 and we meet the adult Larry (Woody Harrelson) in Cincinnati. He owns a strip joint with his younger brother Jimmy (Brett Harrelson). The place isn’t doing so hot, so Larry decides to advertise his dancers via a pictorial newsletter. When this little effort becomes popular, Larry wants to publish a real magazine with professional photography. He encourages the models to display their privates in gynecological detail, which ultimately gets him into trouble with vendors.

In the meantime, Larry meets an underage dancer called “Calamity Jane”. Really named Althea (Courtney Love), the pair quickly fall for each other and become an inseparable pair.

Eventually Larry gets an offer to run some surreptitiously taken nude shots of Jacqueline Onassis. He publishes these, which takes Hustler into the public eye and launches it as a more nationally popular magazine. Charles Keating (James Cromwell) goes on a crusade to stop Hustler, and this ultimately leads to Flynt’s arrest due to the alleged violation of community standards.

When Larry ends up in court, he gets a young lawyer named Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton). This starts a long-term relationship between the pair that will ultimately lead them to the film’s primary case, a suit pursued by Reverend Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul) when he feels defamed by an ad parody in Hustler. The movie also traces Larry’s other issues and his relationship with Althea.

When Flynt hit screens back in 1996, I never got around to seeing it though I’d wanted to do so. It came and went from theaters pretty quickly, so I didn’t get the chance. I checked it out on laserdisc, however, and felt disappointed. With this second screening on DVD, my attitude hasn’t changed. I think the movie has its moments but seems moderately flat as a whole.

Directed by Milos Forman, Flynt shows little of the inspiration that marked his best-known flicks like Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The latter worked because of the nearly documentary style manner in which Forman told it, while Amadeus created a lovely and elegant tale.

Flynt never really seems very sure of itself. Sometimes it wants to be a straight biography, whereas on other occasions it comes across more like an issues film that wants to trumpet the virtues of the First Amendment. Occasionally it tries to be a love story as it concentrates on the romance between Larry and Althea. None of these elements dominate the flick, which leaves it somewhat scattered and unfocused.

The movie also lacks much depth. Flynt provides an intriguing and inconsistent personality, and it’d be interesting to really dig into his character. Did he behave as he did because he really cared about Constitutional issues or was he just a crude attention-monger? The film doesn’t attempt to make an answer, and it fails to provoke the viewer to create their own hypotheses; frankly, it just doesn’t seem to care about matters that aren’t generally superficial.

Harrelson received the film’s only acting nomination for his work as Larry, but I think he provides the weakest performance of the leads. Harrelson does grow in the part, and his work becomes richer as the movie progresses. Nonetheless, he seems somewhat fake and unconvincing. He never becomes truly natural in the role; instead, it also feels like he’s acting and playing a part.

On the other hand, Norton seems quite convincing as Isaacman, and Love provides a simply splendid portrayal of the troubled Althea. Granted, the part doesn’t exactly seem like a stretch for Love, but she inhabits the character nicely and it doesn’t feel like she’s simply playing herself. She makes Althea vivid and appropriately unappealing but she doesn’t fall back on easy stereotypes to play the part. It’s an excellent performance that outshines her more experienced co-stars.

Ultimately, the superficial nature of The People Vs. Larry Flynt causes it to fall short of its goals. It seems like an awfully literal examination of its characters and it rarely delves beneath the surface. The movie also feels disjointed and unfocused much of the time. Most of the actors provide solid work, and the story itself possesses a lot of merit, but the end result comes across as decent at best and doesn’t live up to expectation created by those behind it.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus A-

The People Vs. Larry Flynt appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture looked generally terrific and showed only a few small issues.

Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie remained crisp and concise from start to finish. Virtually no examples of softness marred the presentation, as it appeared distinct and accurate. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and I also witnessed no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws remained minor. Some light grain cropped up at times, and I also noticed the occasional speckle, but otherwise the movie remained clean and fresh.

Flynt offered a naturalistic palette, and the tones looked consistently positive. The movie exhibited colors that came across as warm and rich at all times, and these never presented any problems like noise or bleeding. Instead the hues were taut and vivid. Black levels also seemed dense and full, while shadow detail was clear and appropriately opaque without any concerns due to shots that looked too dark. Ultimately, Flynt presented a very fine image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 didn’t fare quite as well, but that’s mostly because of the audio’s lack of scope and its chatty nature. Dialogue dominated the movie, so that didn’t lead to an active soundfield. Music showed vivid stereo dimensionality, and the film demonstrated a pretty good sense of ambience. Elements like jets moved neatly across the front, and they also kicked into the surrounds at times. Scenes like the “Americans for Free Press” rally presented a good feeling of echo and atmosphere as well, and I liked the punch given to a fireworks piece. The mix didn’t present much ambition, but the soundfield seemed satisfactory for this kind of film.

Audio quality worked fine. Dialogue appeared neat and distinct for the most part. At times I thought the lines seemed a little thin, but I didn’t note any issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Although they didn’t pop up too actively most of the time, effects remained concise and accurate, and they showed decent heft when appropriate. Music worked best, as the score and songs demonstrated good vibrancy and dynamics. The audio didn’t demonstrate much ambition, but the soundtrack of Flynt seemed strong enough to earn a “B”.

This new special edition release of The People Vs. Larry Flynt comes packed with quite a few extras. We open with two separate audio commentaries. The first features actors Courtney Love, Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. All three apparently provided their own screen-specific discussions, but they sat separately and the results were edited together for this track.

Better than most actor commentaries, this one offered a lot of good material, though it came with a few frustrations. Love heavily dominated the piece. Norton only popped up a few times, though he added some good insight into his work. He also explained why director Milos Forman didn’t provide his own commentary; allegedly the director didn’t think his English speech was understandable enough! Harrelson also appeared sporadically, but he chimed in with more frequency as he gave us some notes about his work and anecdotes from the set. Harrelson proved to be engaging and lively during his occasional remarks.

As I indicated, however, most of the track featured Love, and she seemed nicely frank and chatty. Love discussed her casting and complications related to that due to her prior drug problems. She also talked about conflicts on the set and working with the others plus her research into the role and various different elements. Most intriguing were her occasional remarks about her romance with Norton.

While most of it seemed positive, some parts of the actors commentary fell flat. It suffered from a fair number of gaps, and at times, Love did little more than tell us what she saw on screen. Despite those issues, however, the piece mostly worked well, and it offered interesting coverage of the film from the actors’ point of view.

The second commentary featured writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. I recently heard another commentary of theirs for Auto Focus and I really enjoyed that chat. The writers proved vivid and active again during this conversation. The pair covered a myriad of topics. They began with their roots in the business and moved through their inspiration to do the Flynt story, obstacles encountered along the way, factual tidbits, the reality of the story, and lots of anecdotes about the making of the flick. They filled the time well and made this a terrific little track.

Up next we find two Deleted Scenes. These last 54 seconds and 84 seconds respectively. “Running for President” shows a look at Flynt’s 1983 press conference to declare his political intentions, while “Kentucky House” depicts the reproduction of his childhood home that he built into his LA mansion. The latter offers a better look at Flynt’s parents, but it doesn’t really give us a better understanding of them. “President” doesn’t really go anywhere, at least as depicted; I don’t know if an additional scene would flesh out this area of Flynt’s life, but this clip fails to tell us much.

The deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary. Woody Harrelson discusses his affection for “President”, while Larry Karaszewski chats about “House”. Harrelson does little to convince that “President” deserved to make the final cut, while Karaszewski tells us how he likes the non-professional actors used for “House”. You won’t miss much if you skip either commentary – or both.

After this we get two documentaries. Free Speech or Porn? runs 30 minutes and eight seconds as it covers a mix of general issues related to the film. It presents some archival materials and shots from the film along with a series of new interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from director Milos Forman, producers Janet Yang, Michael Hausman and Oliver Stone, writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, actors Woody Harrelson, James Cromwell, Edward Norton, Vincent Schiavelli, Brett Harrelson, Courtney Love, costume designer Arianne Philips, production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, and real-life personalities Larry Flynt, Alan Isaacman, and Reverend Jerry Falwell.

”Porn” repeats some information heard in the commentaries, but mostly it gives us fresh details about the production. It examines the movie in a fairly standard way, as it goes through the project’s genesis and tells us about casting, adaptation issues, Forman’s involvement, dealing with the subject matter, costume and production design factors, and reactions to the film. The latter elements seem especially interesting as we hear of the backlash against Flynt, and it’s also cool to get a little info from real-life Flynt, Falwell and Isaacman, though none of the trio tell us much. As for the non-interview footage, some short glimpses of the screentests for Love and Norton seem like highlights. Overall, “Porn” provides a pretty entertaining discussion of Flynt.

Narrated by Dennis Hopper, Larry Flynt Exposed gives us a 29-minute and 24-second synopsis of the publisher’s life. It shows some clips from the flick, photos and other artifacts, and interviews with Flynt, wife Liz Flynt, Jerry Falwell, Alan Isaacman, brother Jimmy Flynt, actors Woody Harrelson, photographers Suze Randall, Ladi von Jansky, Larry Flynt Publications Special Project Director Vince Crisp, LFP VP/Creative Director James Baes, screenwriter Larry Karaszewski, former federal prosecutor Bo Anderson, and LFP Executive Vice President Tom Candy.

Told logically and concisely, “Exposed” elaborates on material from the film and allows us to get a good sense of Flynt’s real story. It goes through the different elements seen in the movie and provides various viewpoints. The participation of all the real-life personalities helps make “Exposed” work best, as it’s very interesting to get their perspectives on the events. “Exposed” works as an excellent supplement to the movie and it nicely fleshes out Flynt’s story.

A text piece, Larry Flynt, Patriot displays a New York Times article from 1996. Written by Frank Rich, the essay defends the movie as a statement for First Amendment rights. Frankly, it doesn’t seem terribly insightful or interesting; I’m not sure why it appeared here and the DVD’s producers left off other reviews or discussions of the movie.

Flynt winds up with filmographies for actors Harrelson, Love and Norton plus director Milos Forman and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and a collection of trailers. The latter compilation includes ads for The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Auto Focus.

The People Vs. Larry Flynt boasts a lot of talent behind and in front of the camera, which makes it seem like a disappointment. While some parts of it work well, the movie doesn’t delve deeply into its characters or themes, and it comes across as somewhat erratic and superficial. As for the DVD, it presents very strong picture quality with satisfying audio and a splendid collection of supplements.

The high quality of the DVD makes it one that I moderately recommend. I didn’t think a lot of the movie, but it did muster enough interest from me to be something that was watchable. The DVD adds so much good material, however, that it becomes valuable in and of itself; you could check out the supplements and be more entertained than if you screened the flick in question.

Flynt first hit DVD in late 1997, and it apparently included no extras. I never saw that disc, so I can’t compare picture or audio quality between the two. However, since I liked the supplements so much and seriously doubt that the old disc looked or sounded better than this one, I have to endorse the special edition for anyone with an interest in Flynt. It’s the one to buy for folks new to the movie, and it’s a good upgrade candidate for those who own the old disc.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2142 Stars Number of Votes: 28
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