It’s practically a rite of passage in Oscar season at this point: Clint Eastwood showing up late with a movie no one realized he had finished already. (He works fast because he gets everything in one take, even if that one take is sh-t, it’s the take, move on.) This year’s late entry is Richard Jewell, a biopic of the man falsely accused of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing. The movie is adapted from Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “The Ballad of Richard Jewell”. It’s a ripe story, featuring an early shockwave of 24-hour news coverage, before anyone quite realized how new media was changing the way news is disseminated. In my memory, there were three big news nightmares in the 1990s: OJ Simpson, Richard Jewell, and Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I totally understand the desire to turn Richard Jewell’s story into a movie – it’s very cinematic, and it deals with things we still grapple with today, particularly the 24-hour media’s need for constant evolving narratives they can report every hour with updates.
Clint Eastwood’s movie definitely looks like it is going after the press angle, as represented by Olivia Wilde as a local reporter. Sam Rockwell plays the lawyer who represented Jewell, Jon Hamm is on board as an FBI agent, and Kathy Bates is portraying Jewell’s mother, Bobi. Jewell himself is played by Paul Walter Hauser, who was the outstanding breakout of I, Tonya, giving a hilariously committed performance as Shawn Eckardt. He looks phenomenal in the trailer, and I hope he gets launched into the Best Actor conversation.
But I am wary of Eastwood’s approach here. For sure, the media f-cked up the Richard Jewell story, and it ruined his life (he passed way in 2007, one year after the governor of Georgia finally thanked him for his efforts on the night of the bombing). And definitely the FBI was not acting in good faith—the Justice Department found the FBI tried manipulate Jewell into waiving his constitutional rights though ultimately they found “no intentional violations” in their investigation, which is an interesting splitting of hairs. The whole situation was a f-cking mess, and I’m not saying either the media or the FBI should be let off the hook for this epic clusterf-ck that took an enormous toll on a private citizen.
HOWEVER. We are now in the midst of a very contentious political battle with a president whose entire term has been marked with hostility toward the press and the FBI. And here comes Eastwood, one of the most famous Republicans in Hollywood, making a movie about how the press and the FBI gang up on innocent people and ruin their lives for, I dunno, sport. It just doesn’t seem like a coincidence. His recent movies have all been about Real American Heroes doing Heroic American Things, usually in the face of ineffectual, or even actively hostile, government forces.
In the case of Richard Jewell, Eastwood has a prime subject, because here the press and the FBI really did f-ck up in a big way (unlike in Sully, where Eastwood fabricated a needlessly hostile NTSB). But because of his recent track record, I have to ask what Eastwood’s purpose is here. Is it to (finally) give Richard Jewell his due? Or is it to feed into a particular political narrative about these institutions as they operate today? Hollywood is often accused of a liberal bias, so it’s only fair the other side get their own biased films, too. I’m just a little exhausted by the everything of it all.