Steal this Movie!

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 09/09/00 19:00:51

"Fight the Power!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A narrowly fictionalized account of 60's radical leftist, Abbie Hoffman. Steal This Movie captures the spirit of the invasive guerilla theatre tactics of Abbie Hoffman and the attempt by the US government to not only stop him but to stop the new left during a time of significant social change in American history.

Obviously, the government was not concerned about the will of the people. An elite power structure inside the US Government hijacked America and used its citizens as pawns and guinea pigs in an effort to protect capital under the banner of defending the US against godless Communism. This angered a lot of idealistic, creative, intelligent, feisty people who believed in Democracy and Free Speech - the very foundation of this country.

Did I use all past tense verbs in that last paragraph?

Not much has changed. Social reality aside, is this a good movie?

Yes, because it uses its subject well to frame what creative resistance against an unrelentingly oppressive government was all about during the Viet Nam war era. Steal This Movie is less a movie about Abbie Hoffman than it is about the lengths people have gone to protest US foreign and domestic policy and how far the government has gone to stop social progress.

It succintly packages the emotional response of the countercultural movement to the War Machine for a younger generation that may have lost the connection with the progressive left of the previous generation and thus any critical perspective on social institutions that we inherit. Steal This Movie is an expose of the hypocrisy of America and the abuse of power by its social institutions. It is also a timely movie considering the recent organized protests against the WTO in Seattle or the Protests at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions neatly parallel efforts to express the will of part of society. And Jerry Rubin, former cohort of Abbie, is currently running for the California State Legislature, but state law forbids him from calling himself a peace "Activist" because activist is not a legally acceptable job title. That must feel like a breeze of 30 year old air to Rubin.

If The Patriot was supposed to bring us back to the heady drama of the American Revolution in however an intellectually impoverished manner, then Steal This Movie is supposed to bring us back to the countercultural "revolution" in a particularly emotional way layered with leftist dogma. I feel weird writing "countercultural". So many things that were once "counter" are now just "culture".

I was moved by this film only because I empathize with the era and especially those who wanted nothing to do with a culture they saw as inhumane but were forced to either comply or be destroyed by a militaristic organization of government, corporate culture and thus, society. War does not care about art and is not a condition of compassion or tolerance. A government based on the ideal of a state of constant warfare stands in direct opposition to those with a vision of a more tolerant, humane domestic and foreign policy. Steal This Movie shows how those with the power in a war culture will use violence to silence the opposition.

The pseudo documentary format gives the film a "first person" feel but it plays like a story being told. The audience is partially told a lot of information, and partially shown and you can feel or not feel the importance of what is being said or what Abbie was trying to do: change the consciousness of a society he cared about to make it more into something he could love.

Janeane Garofolo plays Abbie Hoffman's ex-wife and mother of his son. Her occasional monologues were more like lectures about the ideology of the new left, but I did not mind at all. In fact, the occasionally delivery of "Why We Are Doing This" is one of the reasons why I think this film is go worthy. Vincent D'Onofrio (The Cell) plays a marvelously believable Abbie. I think D'Onofrio may be another Gary Oldman: a chameleon male lead.

Its not a perfect film, but its perfect for what it is trying to do. This film was produced by Abbie Hoffman's lawyer, Gerry Lefcourt, who is also a character in the film and a great many of Abbie's friends and compatriots were consulted. Great care was taken to create a story that had a ground in real life, but as usual, 100 minutes limits what you can focus on.

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