The Anarchist Cookbook

Writer-director Jordan Susman's smart, scrappy first feature doesn't really have much to do with The Anarchist Cookbook, the notorious how-to manual which, since 1969, has offered would-be radicals an assortment of recipes for homemade explosives and drugs. Susman is more interested in what the book represented: an ideological shift away from peaceful protest...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Writer-director Jordan Susman's smart, scrappy first feature doesn't really have much to do with The Anarchist Cookbook, the notorious how-to manual which, since 1969, has offered would-be radicals an assortment of recipes for homemade explosives and drugs. Susman is more interested in what the book represented: an ideological shift away from peaceful protest to a "by any means necessary" embrace of violence as the only effective method of fighting social injustice. And though the film is set in contemporary Texas, Susman sees a relevant parallel with the dark end of the 1960s and puts a simple but important question to the next generation of radicals: Is there really such a thing as total freedom without responsibility? Peter Gold, aka "Puck" (My So-Called Life's Devon Gummersall), is a smart college drop-out who's tailored the tenets of radical social theory to suit his lifestyle. He's sincerely opposed to globalization, unfettered free trade and what he calls "the Nike-fication" of the world, but he's an anarchist because anarchists have more fun. In a society without laws or government, "pure, unadulterated freedom" rules; nothing is true, everything is equal, private property is theft and the only real commodities are love and sex. Sadly, Puck is getting precious little of either. He lives in an East Dallas squatters' collective with like minded anti-capitalists: aging '60s peacenik Johnny Red (John Savage); friends Double D (Steve Van Wormer) and Sweeney (Johnny Whitworth); and rapacious man- — and woman- — eater Karla (Gina Philips), who seems to be sleeping with everyone but Puck. Together they organize anti-fur demonstrations, disrupt patriotic theme-park shows with questions about the Alamo, and consider chaining themselves to the gates of Southwest Chemicals, which has been pumping fluorocarbons into the skies over Texas. Their cozy collective is rudely disrupted by the sudden arrival of one Johnny Black (Dylan Bruno), a dangerously manipulative nihilist and all-around bad apple who represents everything the gentle Johnny Red opposes. Instead of leaflets and Thoreau, Johnny Black's bag of tricks is filled with plastic explosives and a copy of his bible: The Anarchist Cookbook. Stylistically inventive and really well acted — Gummersall and Katharine Towne, who plays a sexy Young Republican with a taste for S&M, are particularly good — the film starts out much like an '80s-era coming-of-age comedy, but soon takes a surprisingly dark turn into FIGHT CLUB territory, that scary place where all extreme ideologies eventually meet: the lunatic fringe. It's a real shame that the first half hour is a disorganized ramble that risks driving away the film's audience; a little artful editing would have gone a long way to fixing the problem.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Writer-director Jordan Susman's smart, scrappy first feature doesn't really have much to do with The Anarchist Cookbook, the notorious how-to manual which, since 1969, has offered would-be radicals an assortment of recipes for homemade explosives and drugs… (more)

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