‘60s radical Abbie Hoffman was dismissed as a joke by the mainstream press, betrayed by his friends, framed by the FBI, railroaded by the criminal justice system and, sadly, forgotten by the very generation of disenfranchised youths that he represented.
How do you sing the praises of a heretofore unsung hero without writing the Gospel According To Those Who Knew Him and canonizing a (tragically) flawed human as an saint beyond reproach? Hoffman was not without his faults, some of which were caused by a chemical imbalance, others from an engorged libido and an over-inflated ego, but Hoffman was a hero, even a martyr for his causes.
Director/producer Robert Greenwald, working closely with Hoffman’s widow Anita Hoffman (now deceased, herself), attempts the feat with Steal This Movie!, a biopic that indeed makes a hero of the charismatic revolutionary. At times, the film brushes by his most unsavory traits with a mere mention, but does so effectively by wisely focusing on Hoffman’s relationship with Anita.
Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Hoffman as we follow his escapades and antics from his roots as a clean-cut crusader for civil rights to his Yippie! agitator days running a pig for president at the ’68 Democratic Convention, indicted for conspiracy to incite a riot and organizing 20,000 anti-war protestors to levitate the Pentagon. Hoffman’s wife Anita (Janeane Garafalo) stands by his side throughout his ordeals, even as Hoffman is framed by the government and goes “underground.” Leaving Anita and his son amerika behind, Hoffman changes his identity to Barry Freed and becomes a fugitive, corresponding with his wife via an intricate web of compassionate abettors. Remarkably, Anita even stands by her man as he takes up with Johanna (Jeanne Tripplehorne) while he’s on the lam.
Framed around the plot device of wraparound interviews with a writer doing an infamous interview with Hoffman for Playboy magazine, Hoffman, his lawyer Gerry Lefcourt (Kevin Pollak) and Anita dig up the files on COINTELPRO, the FBI’s covert and unconstitutional espionage operation to discredit the radical left.
Steal This Movie! isn’t perfect, mostly because too many unpleasantries are glossed over and some of the more fascinating moments in Hoffman’s life are not even mentioned. However, the filmmakers and a wonderful cast capture the spirit of Hoffman and the zeitgeist of the ‘60s without undue nostalgia. Even the final Oscar sermon, culled from two actual speeches Hoffman delivered, is guaranteed to put a lump in the throat of every American with even a smidgen of patriotism.