Steal This Movie!
as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
What's the difference between a political activist of the '60s and a political activist of today? The good ones, like Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce, used satire to get their message across; today, political satire is a lost art, practiced by a few brave souls like Jello Biafra and Richard Belzer. Considering we're on the verge of electing a new president, there are rumors that political satire might make a comeback. Let's hope so.
Abbie Hoffman was an instigator, a shit-disturber, a Vietnam protestor, an enigmatic leader and the organizer of the Yippie movement, blamed for the riots surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He inspired activism among young people and Hoover's FBI to break into his wire-tapped offices and keep files on his compatriots.
Now Vincent D'Onofrio is a tremendously talented and diverse actor. In this biopic of the infamous activist, he plays Hoffman as vivacious and charismatic. But even with the co-operation of Hoffman's lawyer, wife and associates, D'Onofrio's double duty as executive producer turns Steal This Movie! into something of a vanity project.
Not that the film is without merit. Using an intrepid reporter who tracks down Anita, Hoffman's wife (Janeane Garofalo), years after Hoffman went into hiding from the government, Hoffman's saga unfolds in idealized flashbacks, from the infamous indictment of the Chicago Seven--Hoffman and the other Yippies who were convicted of instigating the '68 riots--to his early years as a political activist, his struggle with bi-polar manic depression and his wily ability to manipulate the media in order to bring attention to government nefariousness.
The most important aspect of Steal This Movie! is that it convinces you that the government not only harassed Hoffman but literally drove him over the edge. (Hoffman spent several years on the lam after being framed for cocaine possession in the early '70s, resurfacing as an environmental activist before turning himself in to the police in 1980.)
Unlike Mel Gibson's completely obnoxious Conspiracy Theory, Steal This Movie! should at least convince viewers that our government is a threat to US, the American people. The movie is peppered with black-suited spooks, and goes into great detail about the FBI's operations under LBJ designed to discredit leftist groups.
Hoover's FBI, which not only kept thousands of files on "agitators" like John Lennon and Martin Luther King, might have had a hand in their assassinations as well. Steal This Movie! is about an agitator whose own mental demons and frustrations led him to commit suicide in 1989, but not without the help of the government. After all, the FBI forced Hoffman to go underground because they "didn't want another '60s to happen." And happen, it didn't!