As has become something of a tradition in his career, Clint Eastwood is back to make a late-year Oscar push. Although the strategy has produced diminishing returns — with the exception of 2014’s American Sniper — since Million Dollar Baby cleaned up at the 05 Oscars, the film world still holds its breath for what Eastwood will do in December. Maybe they shouldn’t.
Praised as his best work in years — and summarily panned on this website — last year’s The Mule failed to generate any buzz. Clint’s back to try again this year with Richard Jewell and it seems destined for the same fate.
There is a world in which Richard Jewell could be really exceptional. Based on the real life experience of the eponymous Jewell, the film recounts the story of the 1996 Olympic bombing at Centennial Park. The story itself is scintillating, almost perfect for Hollywood. Jewell was the security guard who discovered the bomb in centennial park, his reporting of the package led to an evacuation of the area and likely saved considerable lives in the process. But just as quickly as his star ascended, it faded as Jewell found himself at the center of an FBI investigation into who planted the bomb. What could have been a riveting crime mystery falls entirely flat in the hands of Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood may be a Hollywood legend, but he’s become something of an anomaly in film circles these days. Coming up as an actor in spaghetti westerns, Eastwood cut his teeth portraying the very 60s brand of idealistic masculinity. Although he has used his directing career to subvert some of that image, in a lot of ways he is still a man of that era. As a result Eastwood - a long time republican and libertarian — is one of very few people in Hollywood making mainstream movies for conservative-leaning audiences.
That conservative perspective is rarely subtext in Richard Jewell as Eastwood makes very clear that this is a movie about an innocent man getting railroaded by the corrupt media and FBI. Jewell’s lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) spends most of the film at a desk right in front of sign reading “I’m more afraid of my government than terrorists.” There is no subtlety here.
While the Fox News style message is grating, it’s less of a drag on the movie than how Eastwood argues that message. If he wants to make a movie espousing the president’s talking points that is his right, he just does it so damn sloppily.
We see Jewell’s life ruined by relentless FBI agents trying to reverse engineer a case from a predetermined guilty verdict. His accusers are only bolstered by a news media, and specifically one grossly stereotypical reporter (Olivia Wilde), out to tear down an American hero. Pretty sure you could take the same notes away from a Tucker Carlson segment. The problem with this narrative though is that Eastwood never grapples with the fact that at times Jewell looks really fucking guilty.
His Richard Jewell is a somewhat well intentioned dope who says and does the wrong thing at just about every turn. If Eastwood didn’t lazily display Jewell’s innocence by showing every moment of the Centennial Park bombing in the early scenes you might even find yourself wondering if he was guilty. But none of this stops the film from portraying those who suspect him as life craven life-ruining monsters.
What happened to the real life Richard Jewell was really unfortunate! But to take that story and haphazardly graft it onto your anti-media, anti-government screed is not only lazy but disingenuous. So while this movie is at least les tedious than The Mule, it doesn’t serve as much of an improvement either.
4/10. Eastwood’s new film is a sloppy attack on the media without any of the nuance to make it stick