Once again, Clint Eastwood slouches into his late-career comfort zone. His brand has become forceful economic efficiency. The filmmaking remains as sturdy and sound as ever. It’s in the characters, more caricatures, human interest stories for the rugged Libertarian. Stories for the American that has opted for cowboy individualism over the trend of inclusive unity. We cannot objectively review the filmmakers politics, or we will not, except to say that they markedly color Mr. Eastwood’s topical interests. And that may be enough to make a decision on whether to support his new film.
Richard Jewell (a committed Paul Walter Hauser, perfectly channeling his I, Tonya (2017) energy,) is exactly the kind of American hero that occupies Eastwood’s imagination. The Twin Geeks Editor David Punch rightly said, to paraphrase: Eastwood is all too concerned with flash-in-the-pan acts of heroism. They are Chicken Soup for the Conservative’s Soul. Essentially, they are the great hope that one good guy with a gun always stops a bad guy with a gun, or in this case, a bad guy with a bag of bombs at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Another friend of the site, with startling accuracy, suggested Eastwood has been channeling a Paul Greengrass impression.
Eastwood’s third picture in just two years, Richard Jewell is a more focused directorial effort than the travelogue styling of The 15:17 to Paris (2018), which secretly boasts one great action set-piece between the fluff. Richard Jewell must strike closer to Sully (2016), his most Greengrass-esque picture of all, and away from his top tier old man with perspective films like Gran Torino (2008) and The Mule (2018).
Richard Jewell is a product of Walmart heroism. Eastwood directs it down to the bones. Richard Jewell is perfectly watchable and astute, cutting in its efficiency. It’s being sold with a bad poster. It reads as: the fake news media damned a heroic American who put their life on the line for his dream of bleeding blue, that is, rejoining the police force after being demoted to security detail. That is also how it goes with little in textually to counter or deter from such a troubled perspective.
The supporting cast is up to snuff. At least one aspect may raise a side-eye. Olivia Wilde, an early #MeToo advocate, plays a reporter who trades sex for information, although it’s been stated this did not actually happen with the late person she’s based on, according to sources close to the reporter. It is a problematic portrayal at best and for a movie that does not trust the media to get it right, it also gets it wrong. The rock-solid combative performances of Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s attorney and pitch-perfect Gov’t-man Jon Ham may redeem its social currency. Certainly, Kathy Bates is charming as Jewell’s doting mother, shocked her innocent boy should ever be presumed guilty. That opens up a certain social naïvety that is surprising from Eastwood.
Richard Jewell threads the needle between middle of the road depictions of great acts of valor when specific moments of duty call. A product of Eastwood’s human interests, he shows genuine care for the main character, almost to the exclusion of anyone else. Largely, the film is cuttingly refined, magnetically watchable; Eastwood can turn in journeyman-like work and it still smacks of attentive precision. There is the egregious factual problem with Wilde’s portrayal; for that, he is unforgiven.