Patty Hearst (1988)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Docudrama  |   Release Date - Sep 23, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Neither a cold-eyed, objective survey of the evidence nor a straightforward, sob sister puff piece, this biopic uses Patty Hearst's own account of her kidnapping and stint in the Symbionese Liberation Army as a springboard for ambiguous and at times curiously inert storytelling. Continuing the stream of fact-based screenplays that would culminate in the Oscar-winning Reversal of Fortune two years later, writer Nicholas Kazan tries to take the audience inside Hearst's world as she's brainwashed in a closet for two months and then inculcated into the SLA's cultish lifestyle. Unfortunately, Hearst's response to these events -- glassy-eyed pretend acquiescence -- isn't exactly easy to portray visually. Natasha Richardson tries hard to explicate the turmoil Hearst suffered, but the character's inner life can't exactly leap off the screen. The strongest scenes are therefore the ones that depict her actual participation in the group, including sexual liaisons with the males; here, the conflict between self-respect and self-preservation proves compelling. Elsewhere, director Paul Schrader does an excellent job exploring the middle-class guilt and leftover '60s rebellion that fuelled the actions of the SLA's lower echelons. At the opposite extreme, Ving Rhames gives an early display of his star-worthy intensity. His compelling performance as Cinque, the group's principled but misguided leader, is the most dynamic piece of acting in the entire film. As a gritty exploration of countercultural excess, Patty Hearst is never less than gripping. But it sheds no more light inside its protagonist's head than the last 25 years of impotent media glare.