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Steal This Movie

Steal This Movie will no doubt leave some viewers struggling to reconcile plain fact with adoring fiction in its portrait of mercurial leftist prankster Abbie Hoffman. While director Robert Greenwald's film finds Hoffman's radical politics unimpeachable, it does a fair job of depicting the late '60s icon as a personal mess whose agenda — like that of most political leaders — was driven as much, if not more, by egocentrism and con-artistry as it was genuine activism. Most famous for his organizing role and subsequent trial as part of the "Chicago Seven," accused of orchestrating riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hoffman practiced an often silly, highly visible, sometimes eloquent, and seldom productive form of civil disobedience in his opposition to such varied "injustices" as the Vietnam War, capitalism, and strong-arm government tactics. Based on the book To America with Love: Letters from the Underground by Hoffman and his wife Anita, Greenwald's film focuses on Hoffman's exiled existence in the 1970s, on the run from federal drug charges, and throwing his family into chaos. The best moments come when Hoffman refuses to face the conflicts between his political ideals, selfish instincts, and personal responsibilities, leading him to abandon his son and wife to escape the law and become a martyr. However, early scenes chronicling his rise as a prominent organizer are less conflicted, despite the irreconcilable dissonance between his two ideologies, socialism and anarchy. Since the film never questions Hoffman's politics — and only depicts his dissenters as thuggish, racist cretins — it can fairly be considered a whitewash and of little ideological or educational value, and as a result the first hour drags, entirely free of dramatic conflict. But as a character study the film is engaging, and toward the end surprisingly moving. Underrated character actor Vincent D'Onofrio is terrific as Hoffman, encapsulating all of his charm, energy, and shortcomings, and Janeane Garofalo is perfect as his idealistic young wife who sadly, yet passively, cleans up her careless husband's messes. Also with Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kevin Pollak, Donald Logue, and an excellent Kevin Corrigan as Jerry Rubin. Trimark's DVD release is a feature-packed disc. Although the exact ratio of the anamorphic widescreen transfer is unspecified (apparently 1.85:1), in a few shots odd framing suggests it doesn't match the original theatrical format. In Dolby Digital 5.1. Includes a commentary track with director Greenwald and cinematographer Denis Lenoir, a second track with D'Onofrio and Garofalo, nine interviews with people portrayed in the film (including Hoffman himself, as well as fellow Chicago Seven members Tom Hayden and Bobby Seale), eight deleted scenes with commentary, storyboard sequences, and a production-design featurette.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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