The current crop of films does not portray the US Justice system in the best light. Of course, judges do not possess the in-fallacy of a higher power. They are, after all, only human. This may come as a great shock to some of their inflated egos, but there you have it. Mistakes are, and will continue to be, made. But the number of mistakes made in the past are horrendous. One wonders if more innocent people have been incarcerated than guilty ones? Certainly, if you have the money to frustrate the legal system, or buy favour, you can get away with murder. Literally. But, if you’re innocent and poor – and/or black – your fate is pretty much sealed. It seems you’re guilty until proven innocent. And if you can only afford a court appointed lawyer, well, you better have God on your side.
Watching Clint Eastwood’s newly directed film “Richard Jewell” makes you downright angry. How could there be such an abuse of power and justice? It goes against every naïve belief we hold dear. Richard Jewell was a socially inept, overweight man who lived at home with his mother. All he had in his life was the dream that he would one day work in law enforcement to protect people, and do his bit to keep them safe. A sweet dream of a lonely young man who craved to be accepted and seen to be worthy.
He eventually succeeded in becoming a security guard and was hired to work at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic events.
Eastwood’s film perfectly captures Jewell’s small world, and how his work colleagues treated him as a simpleton who was over-zealous in his job. While they relaxed at a rock concert event, Richard continued to walk the grounds looking for any possible danger to the public. He finally found it. A suspicious, unattended bag. His actions that night in identifying a bomb saved hundreds of people’s lives.
Initially he was hailed a hero. But very quickly, one newspaper headlined that the “hero” was an FBI suspect, and instantly his life turned into a living hell. Suddenly this simple, upstanding young man was an easy target for the FBI (who wanted quick closure to pacify the public) and the media (who smelt a great story). Due to his Disney-like view of the world, Jewell couldn’t comprehend that such powerful forces, that he’d blindly believed in, would conspire to ruin his life and paint him forevermore as a villain.
This film is indeed a cautionary tale to all those who think you are safe if you’ve done nothing wrong. None of us are safe if the system, for whatever reason, targets you.
“Richard Jewell” is a powerful and thought-provoking film. It is also arguable Eastwood’s best-directed film in a decade. I was shocked recently when the morning ABC News film reviewer stated that “although he thought Eastwood’s film was one of his best, he couldn’t agree with the politics of the movie.” Huh? So, because Clinton was President at the time, we must believe that the FBI and the media acted responsibly? Really? So much for objective reporting. In fact, it highlights the theme of the movie. There is no right or left when it comes to the truth. The truth is the truth whether you find it digestible, or not. Interestingly, the same reviewer had no problem with the politics of “Bombshell.” Why? Because, no doubt, the politics suited him. As someone who lived in Hollywood for 9 years, and was married to an actress, I know that most heads of major studios, or production companies, or agencies, etc., etc., etc. were indulging in the same ill-moral abuses of power. So, where are the films about Harvey Weinstein…or Jeffrey Epstein…or many others I could name? Nope. Instead, Hollywood chooses to target Roger Ailes, head of Fox News. Cute huh? I’m not defending Ailes who was obviously a sleazy creep. But, again, where’s the objective reporting?
We are living in a world where, more than ever, we can’t believe much of what is reported to us. Well, not without some time-consuming investigations of our own. And they are banking on the fact that most people don’t have the time to go digging for the truth. I find this very scary and reminiscent of that old German regime of the thirties, who manipulated the minds of a whole nation feeding them on a healthy diet of bullshit exaggerations and lies.
Much praise needs to be given to the main actors Paul Walter Hauser, who is so much like the original Richard Jewell it’s freaky. Sam Rockwell, giving another brilliant performance as the lawyer who comes to Jewell’s rescue. Kathy Bates, as the mother who can’t believe what is happening to her heroic son. And Jon Hamm as the blinkered and compromised FBI investigator.
Clint Eastwood directed this film at the age of 89 and shows no sign of slowing down. Or lowering his standards. So much for Hollywood ageism. Long may you run, Clint. Like Richard Jewell you are an inspiration to all.
Review by Frank Howson March 2020.