Future historians will look back on the years of President Bush Jr as dark days for the American nation, when the rule of law was flouted, fascism reared its brutal head and the country ran scared from so-called terrorists.

By 1974, Flower Power, Black Panthers, Kent State, ghetto riots, civil rights murders, anti-war marches, Yippies and university sit-ins had shaken the complacency of the chattering classes. The Symbionese Liberation Army was one more faction of the urban guerrilla alternative that attracted a handful of alienated middle-class supporters and appeared on the far left of the anarchic revolutionary movement.

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When they kidnapped Patty Hearst, a Berkeley college student and daughter of one of the richest men in the West, the SLA became a force to be reckoned with, except that no one knew what they stood for, apart from "feeding the poor" and "death to the pigs." Their leader was a black man, who talked of corporate Amerika as "the enemy of the people."

Paul Schrader's film, based on Patty Hearst's autobiography, tells of the 18 months she spent with this group, who turn out to be mainly women, unfocused, sexually liberated and spasmodically violent. After spending the first weeks in a cupboard ("I sleep all the time; I have no strength; my body is giving up"), she makes a decision that is hard for those outside to understand. When given the choice to leave and go home, or stay and join them, she stays. And the next the world knows of her is when she is caught by security cameras as part of a bank robbery.

By using narrative noice-over, Schrader internalises the terror. What he doesn't manage is make the switch from light-deprived prisoner to fully-fledged sister of the movement appear either rational, or brainwashed. Where he succeeds is depicting the SLA as a motley crew of revolutionary groupies and derailed psychopaths, who prefer to live in houses without furniture and play war games with real guns.

Natasha Richardson gives an intelligent performance that captures the intensity of her fear, without losing touch with the humanity of a situation that involves other women with different agendas.

Patty Hearst's story would be different today. They'd have locked her up and thrown away the key, unless her father was a contributor to the Republican Party re-election campaign.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2004
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True story of how priviliged Patty Hearst was kidnapped by revolutionaries and later converted to their cause.
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Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Nicholas Kazan, based on Every Secret Thing by Patricia Campbell Hearst and Alvin Moscow

Starring: Natasha Richardson, William Forsythe, Ving Rhames, Frances Farmer, Jodi Long, Olivia Barash, Dana Delany

Year: 1988

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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