Steal This Movie!
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
In The Cell, Vincent D'Onofrio's character is initially portrayed as a sadistic monster who sees himself as some sort of dark god. By the end, however, the film manipulates the audience into sympathizing for him, despite the atrocities he committed while alive. A similar view can be taken of D'Onofrio's other film to open this week. Of course, your perspective would have to be far more cynical, and oddly angled.
Steal This Movie! is a biopic covering the life of Abbie Hoffman between 1967 and 1979. During this time, Hoffman (played by D'Onofrio) goes from being a leftist guru, to a political party chairman, to the defendant of several high-profile trials, to a fugitive, and finally to a family man and revered activist. It's a slice of life that is too dramatic to believe (because it isn't entirely true -- more on that later).
Janeane Garofalo plays Hoffman's wife, Anita, who met him in New York, and eventually followed him and a group of radicals to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Abbie formed the Youth Internation Party -- a.k.a. the "Yippies" -- and nominated a pig name Pigasus for president outside the convention. Their rally was violently ended by the police, and the "Chicago 8" trial began (soon becoming the "Chicago 7" after Black Panther Bobby Seal, played by Panou, was removed and tried separately).
A few years later, Abbie is arrested on drug charges. After posting bail, he begins a six-year period as a fugitive, constantly moving state-to-state. He is estranged from Anita and their newborn son america, eventually settling down with Johanna Lawrenson (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) -- the only person that knows who and where he is.
This film ends shortly after Hoffman comes out of hiding and finally goes to trial, getting a shortened sentence for timed served. Most of the film is told in flashback as different people in Hoffman's life -- including Abbie -- give interviews to David Glenn (Alan Van Sprang), a fictional reporter writing an article for "Newsdate" Magazine five years after Abbie jumped bail. These scenes are shot on grainier film, which allows them to rather seamlessly blend with archive footage.
For a biopic, Steal This Movie! is quite good, but it is not without problems. It's biggest problem is with the truth. Hoffman and Glenn are put into a subplot about uncovering a government conspiracy to suppress left-wingers. That was uncovered, but Hoffman had nothing to do with it. However, if he's supposed to be working with a fictional character, I suppose the filmmakers didn't intend to pass it off as real -- even if that is the impression.
Throughout the film, Hoffman's actions are never questioned, nor is his character. His suicide in 1989 is not portrayed, except for a little postscript. This film was authorized by Anita (shortly before succumbing to cancer in 1998), which may explain the light touch. Then again, the film isn't even that critical of Abbie's relationship with Lawrenson. Hoffman is made sympathetic, even heroic, despite himself.
In this way, the film is similar to The Cell, except that Abbie Hoffman's positive contribution to society actually outweighs whatever negative things he did. I'm just saying that they didn't have to tip the scales so far.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Steal This Movie! (2000)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan