Skip to main content

You have a very loud lawyer. Congratulations.

Richard Jewell

(SPOILERS) Clint Eastwood’s unfussy, no-frills approach to directing rarely lends itself to great movies. Rarely, he happens upon a dynamite script (Unforgiven) and the rest is gravy, but more often, deficiencies present in the material and casting tend to be exposed unflatteringly for all to see. Plus, the idea of a proactive editor seems entirely foreign to his being. Richard Jewell could certainly have done with about twenty minutes shaved off it, but that aside, this is that surprisingly strong late – very late – period Eastwood picture, one that finds the reliably angry old Republican taking an axe to the FBI and the media with equal abandon (and was thus, so went the latter’s narrative, unabashedly pro-Trump). No wonder the knives were out.

Nadya: Where I come from, when the government says you’re guilty, that’s how you know they’re innocent.

If you read some of the reviews, there’s nigh-on affront that Clint should get behind the innocence of his title character, simply because he’s the kind of guy who would have voted for Trump, were he still alive. And therefore, goes their peculiar logic, is obviously the sort who might well have been guilty, were he not in fact innocent (and on this angle, for all that Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray have the forces antagonistic towards Richard in their sights, they make no bones about Jewell’s less flattering “badge-wearing zealot” qualities, obsessions and foibles). In the media’s “My mother is a fish” logic, the carrion tendencies the Press displayed in Jewell’s case are transposed to Trump’s relationship with the media, and therefore, any criticisms Eastwood is making are automatically invalid, or to be faulted by any means available.

With Richard Jewell, the most visible way to achieve this was to focus on the depiction of Olivia Wilde’s journalist Kathy Scruggs, who was at the vanguard of hanging Jewell out to dry. It was outrageous and symptomatic of why the picture sucks that this female character should be depicted as willing to sleep with someone for a story. It’s an attack on women everywhere! It’s notable that History vs Hollywood answers the question of whether Scruggs slept with (an) FBI agent to get the scoop on Jewell with a decisive “No”, before admitting it can’t answer the question for definite.

My own feeling is this was an unnecessary doubling down on the character’s ruthlessness, yet still made for a more plausible development than her tearful realisation she got it wrong about Jewell, which just makes her seem like (a) a lousy reporter because she couldn’t even figure the logistics of Jewell making the phone call and being where he was when the bomb went off, and (b) nothing we’ve seen of her hitherto suggests she’d give a shit, except perhaps in regard to adverse repercussions for her career. There’s also the (not entirely unreasonable, within limits) stock defence that this is a movie, not a documentary, and if you start picking and choosing what’s fair and unfair invention without relating it back to the perspective of the dramatisation, you’re going to end up writing off pretty much every biographical movie ever made.

And so we come back to the perspective of Ray and Clint. Olivia Wilde, unsurprisingly being a full-blooded woke Nazi, backtracked on her support for the film with all the abandon of an actor whose dream was to work with Woody Allen until they figured it might be better for their career to badmouth him (yet not realising it would backfire disastrously). Jewell was evidently a very flawed individual; a corpulent security guard at Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics, he spotted a suspicious package that turned out to be a pipe bomb; his actions almost certainly ensured there were no deaths when it went off (a hundred-plus were injured), but in the days following his initial feting, the press, stirred up by the FBI, turned savagely on him. Before long, there were gross headlines referring to his gross weight and Leno – a fine one to talk – was regularly labelling him Una-doofus. Jewell’s life fell apart as the FBI attempted to finger him for the bombing, and his own character background (over-fastidious law enforcement, even when impersonating an officer, living with his mother, a gun collection) tended to support their case.

Watson Bryant: They found some really dangerous pantyhose, apparently.

Indeed, as noted, it’s to Eastwood’s credit that he makes it very easy to see why suspicion might have fallen on Jewell. His lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell, charismatic as ever, albeit one of the eventual lawyers was the prolific Lin Wood) has to ask him outright if he did it. Paul Walter Hauser’s performance is truly outstanding, and he absolutely ought to have been Academy Award nominated (in either supporting or main, he’s head and shoulders above any of the actual contenders that year).

If Clint makes Jon Hamm’s FBI Agent Tom Shaw odiously malignant and unswerving in his attempts to bring down Jewell, is that necessarily a drawback? Only to the extent that the two-pronged assault makes Scruggs and Shaw collectively supremely hissable, so there’s only really superficial reflection on the institutions/edifices they represent. But portraying journalism and the federal government as morally reprehensible in this case is nevertheless entirely legitimate, and it’s entirely legitimate that Richard Jewell’s nigh-on nonagenarian director makes no bones in getting you angry about Jewell’s treatment.

Obviously, the way Clint makes his movies, what you see is what you get (there’s the occasional flourish, such as a nightmare sequence and the camera strapped to Hauser’s chest). He hasn’t worked with material this strong since the ’90s, though, and the results speak for themselves. I don’t know the ins and outs of the pipe bomb attacker; it seems like a legit case in terms of the actual perpetrator, although these days, anyone with their wits about them will instantly go to “false flag” as an explanation of a terrorist incident (see Clint’s earlier The 15:17 to Paris, or don’t; I have an aversion to these Hollywood rehearsals of recent – War on Terror – history, and the tepid box office they yield suggests few have much interest in seeing them “legitimised” be it by Paul Greengrass or Clint).

Watson Bryant: Were you expecting a zombie invasion or something?

The only complaints that movie got were about its amateur actors; Richard Jewell had Eastwood overstepping his political boundaries, as he’s been perceived to do in several projects in the last couple of decades (American Sniper, The Mule). Is it a classic? No, but it’s a picture that absolutely plays to Clint’s straightforward strengths as a director, and has little difficulty in standing as his best work in years.

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993) (SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct , but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it. Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare ( Clear and Present Danger , Salt ) also adept at “smart” smaller pict