In this odd bio-pic directed by Paul Schrader and based off of Patricia Hearst's own biography, 1988's Patty Hearst stars pretty Natasha Richardson as the titular lead. The film basically follows the events of her life in the mid-seventies where, as she was the well to do daughter of a newspaper mogul, she was kidnapped by the members of Symbionese Liberation Army lead by Donald David DeFreeze (Ving Rhames), who changes his name to Cinque. She is quite literally snatched and thrown into the trunk of a car and locked inside a dark closet for days, a tactic which is essentially used to break her of her previous life and remove from her mind her normal way of thinking.
This results in an interesting psychological shift in that once she's let out of the closet, she's so happy to be out that she doesn't resent those who put her there but instead gives thanks to those who let her out - though they are one and the same. This is the first step on Patty's road to dependency on the group and before you know it, they've more or less convinced her to join them. As she becomes romantically involved with one of the revolutionaries, Cujo (Pete Kowanko), she's fairly obviously come around. She conforms, starts going by the name Tanya, befriending a few other SLA members - chiefly Teko (William Sanderson) and Gelina (Dana Delany) - and joins their revolutionary group and winds up involved as a very willing participant in a daring bank robbery that results in a nationwide scandal.
Made directly after Light Of Day, this film goes a long way towards demonstrating Paul Schrader's diversity as a director, particularly as prior to that he'd made grim films like Hardcore and American Gigolo and dabbled in horror with the underrated Cat People remake. His penchant for penning gripping scripts like those used in Taxi Driver and Rolling Thunder obviously came in handy here as Patty Hearst takes a fairly bleak view towards some rather unsettling events. With that said, Schrader is definitely in complete control of this picture, his style is all over it, and he manages to craft an interesting if slightly cold film that's completely worth seeing and for some reason seems to have been unjustly maligned.
First and foremost what you'll remember from this film are the performances. Richardson is quite believable in the lead role and her transformation from nineteen year old California teenager into gun toting left wing revolutionary is fascinating to watch. You can see the gears turning in her head once she starts giving herself over to the SLA and she handles the duality of the role very well. Also very impressive here is Ving Rhames who plays the role very enthusiastically and is quite charismatic in the part, coming close to overdoing it in a few scenes but never quite crossing that line. Supporting work from the always interesting William Sanderson and a remarkably kind seeming Dana Delany round out the cast nicely and all involved never fail to convince.
With that said, the film does have a coldness to it, though some of this comes from the very idea of making a movie on this subject. Schrader is left in an interesting spot - moviemaking 101 dictates that we should feel some sympathy for the lead character, but at the same time, history dictates that in this case we can't completely succeed in not painting her as a willing participant in some very serious crimes. So Schrader's film winds up in the odd spot of trying to avoid dealing with the issue of Hearst's guilt in the events. This would likely be approached very differently now since the real life Patty Hearst has been officially pardoned but at the time that this movie was made in 1988 that hadn't happened. Regardless, the end result is an interesting and well made picture that seems to stay reasonably accurate to the events which inspired it. It's well acted, well shot, very well paced as it grabs your attention from the very opening scenes, and it holds up quite well.
Patty Hearst looks pretty good in this 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are reasonably bright and bold and detail isn't bad for an older drive-in style movie. Skin tones look okay and while there doesn't seem to have been too much remastering done, the print used looks to have been in pretty good shape leaving only minor print damage worth complaining over.
The only audio option on the disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, in English, with no alternate language or subtitle options provided. The quality of the track is fine, if a bit flat in spots - in short, it pretty much sounds like you'd expect it to. Dialogue is audible enough and the score sounds good - but this doesn't have a whole lot of range to it despite some left to right channel separation in a few spots.
Chapters are included every ten minutes into the movie and we get a static menu - that's it. This one is barebones.
Patty Hearst isn't a perfect film but it definitely is an interesting one and it's nice to have it available on DVD in a decent edition, even if this is a movie that really would have benefited greatly from some contextual supplements. At least the transfer and audio are decent and it's presented in its proper aspect ratio. It's a little on the expensive side for what you get, but it's worth seeing and right now this is the best way to do that - recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.