I was a ”bring down the establishment” Marxist revolutionary when I was 11. It was the early ’70s, and my Bible was the transcript of the Chicago Seven trial, which showcased Abbie Hoffman’s ability to bait authority with jubilant nonchalance. For a radical outlaw, he took himself less seriously than Thomas Jefferson or Lenny Bruce. Steal This Movie, which has been built around the key events of Hoffman’s life, treats his gadfly intellectual, guerrilla theater feistiness as one more sacred countercultural touchstone.
The movie is scrappy and rambling and overly earnest, but beyond the galumphing biopic of the week dialogue, the cruddy lighting, the thin and laborious ”Abbie’s wife remembers the Movement in flashback” structure, the real problem is the one that has bedeviled just about every attempt to portray the ’60s on film: The movie makes the mistake of viewing people who defined themselves by their beliefs as if that was really all there was to them.
Vincent D’Onofrio, hidden behind a mop of curls, speaking in a New England accent so pointed it sounds like it belongs in a dinner theater production of ”Our Town,” plays Hoffman with vibrance and a certain cuddly charm, but what’s missing is the full, sharp thrust of his sly dog ego. No one in ’60s movies is ever allowed to be a volatile, mixed motive narcissist. This remains one era whose memories have been all but emasculated through reverence.