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USA 1988
Directed by
Paul Schrader
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst (Natasha Richardson), the nineteen-year-old grand-daughter of famed media baron William Randolph Hearst (the figure behind Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) made world news when she was kidnapped by the self-styled revolutionary Symbionese Liberation Army at the height of the counter-cultural ‘70s but achieved pop cultural icon status when she apparently converted to the captors’ cause and began robbing banks with them. This change of attitude, a text-book instance of what is known in psychology as the “Stockholm syndrome” is the main point of interest here but although the material has potential Schrader brings little to it.

Schrader divides his film into three parts. The first part depicts Hearst’s kidnapping in February 1974 and subsequent sequestering; the second her post-conversion activities as Tania, an active member of the group; and the third, her capture and trial, at which she effectively contended that she was always aware of what she was doing and merely went along with her abductors for fear of her life.

Ironically, since Nicholas Kazan’s screenplay is based on Hearst’s own account of events in the book ‘Every Secret Thing’, at no stage do we feel that we have a substantial connection with her. After a short introduction in which in voice-over Heart describes her life of privilege we get her kidnap and the first section of the film in which she is blind-folded and thrown to a kind of closet. Schrader chooses to barely let us see Hearst or get any sense of her fear and psychological state (which can’t have been good). Over the ensuing 57 days she is kept in this condition and bombarded with counter-culture rhetoric from various SLA members and apparently raped by the leader of the group, "Cinque" (Ving Rhames).

This approach leaves us with no sense of Hearst’s mind-set when in the film’s middle section she becomes a card-carrying revolutionary. Evidently Schrader and Kazan were limited by their decision to make an “authorized” version of events, one that sanitized Hearst’s involvement in the group and depicting her as having no real relationship with any of them to speak of. Much of this section is awkwardly handled by Schrader (I kept thinking of how much better the film would have been if the Sidney Lumet of Dog Day Afternoon vintage, i.e.1975, had been helming the film) and at times is incongruously risible particularly with respect to one of the group, Bill Harris, aka Teko (William Forsythe) notably in a scene in which he blacks up and begins jive talking to the bathroom mirror (a clumsy descendant of De Niro’s famous scene in Taxi Driver, 1976).

Unsurprisingly Hearst gets most screen time in the last section when she can provide her version of the story but there’s no real before-and-after sense of the young woman to be seen, no emotional evolution (her hair even matches that in the opening section) but there is frankly nothing of interest. The conclusion, whether intended or not, appears to be that there was really nothing much at stake for Hearst herself.




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