The old school tag line "ripped from today's headlines" could very well have been plastered all over the promo posters for Clint Eastwood's new film "Richard Jewell," but the promise veiled in that proclamation fails when you discover the film's real intent.
Eastwood's 2018 film, "The 15:17 to Paris," nose-dived because the director made the unfortunate decision to cast in starring roles the real young men who foiled an attempted terrorist attack, apparently not realizing they couldn't act (maybe he was hoping to find an Audie Murphy in their midst?). While that film was shaped to honor these young American servicemen and their selfless courage, it failed because it was a one-note film illustrating how reality doesn't always follow a Hollywood script.
"Richard Jewell" offers a similar attempt, but in this case the story, again based on a real life incident, gets the old school Hollywood treatment using professional actors, decent production values and a script rooted in the truths of what really happened. I say "rooted," because "based on" or "inspired by" doesn't quite cut it.
Most people know that Eastwood is a conservative who in 2012 during a Republican National Committee speech spoke to an empty chair next to the dais pretending Barack Obama was sitting there. Afterward, Eastwood acknowledged it was a silly stunt. More recently, as most people know, conservatives have targeted the news media and the FBI for pointing out certain facts uncomfortable to powerful individuals in national politics. Not surprisingly, the case of Richard Jewell seems to be the perfect vehicle to take a timely swipe at both institutions. "Ripped from the headlines," indeed.
The film is about the security guard who in 1996 discovered a suspicious package during a Centennial Park concert at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Due to his quick actions to alert police and clear the area, he saved the lives of many people. He was quickly hailed as a hero by the press. But, the FBI had no immediate suspects and so turned to a cookie-cutter profile that seemed to fit Jewell, that of a lone bomber, a wannabe cop, who committed the crime as a way to draw attention to himself. Although not charged, their suspicions were leaked to the press who turned on him like rabid dogs. Plus, the feds used all sorts of dirty tricks to coerce a confession out of him. In effect, both of these institutions made life a living hell for Jewell and his mom, with whom he lived.
Played with homespun ordinary guy-ness by Paul Walter Hauser, Jewell (who died in 2007 of heart failure) comes off as a genuine victim of powerful forces who are used to destroying lives at the drop of a hat. As his mom, Bobi Jewell, Kathy Bates brings a sense of grounded reality to the role of a woman who wants only the best for her son, even though she knows he may not have the smarts to get it. Watson Bryant, played by Sam Rockwell, is the fictitious name given to Jewell's lawyer who helps him navigate the minefield laid out by the press and feds.
Eastwood dives into more serious fiction in his decision to create villains for this piece, namely a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, who finagles the name of the suspect from FBI agent Tom Shaw, played by Jon Hamm. Scruggs died in 2001 of an overdose and so could not defend herself from her offensive portrayal in this film. Rightfully, many journalists from that highly esteemed paper objected strongly and even petitioned to have Eastwood add a disclaimer to his film. It does not appear. Hamm's role is pure fiction.
Eastwood clearly has an agenda with this film, one honed by previous ones in which the underdog is an ordinary person drawn into life-changing circumstances. But here, the target is clearly the media (not individual journalists, mind you) and the FBI who they say were just doing their jobs. It is certainly tragic and a cautionary tale regarding what happened to Richard Jewell, especially after he was 100 percent exonerated when the real bomber was caught and confessed years later. But, watch this film with a grain of salt. Eastwood may be 89 years old, but he knows the business better than most folks.
Incidentally, the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was playing on stage when the bomb went off in Centennial Park that year. In August, they performed in Taos for the annual Dog Days benefit concert.
Tempo grade: C
"Richard Jewell" is rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com
Also showing in Taos
MPAA rating: R for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror and some language.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres
A detective investigates a murder scene that has a connection to a case that her new partner handled in the past. The killings occurred in a haunted house that passes on a ghostly curse to those who dare enter it.
Soon, the curse spreads to a terminally ill woman and her husband, and another unsuspecting couple who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
American-made film based on the original Japanese horror hit was directed by Nicolas Pesce and stars Tara Westwood, Junko Bailey and Andrea Riseborough.
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com
MPAA rating: Documentary, not rated.
Taos Community Auditorium
Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from non-violent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for five decades, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible.
As far as Palestinians are concerned, she's more than an attorney, she's an advocate.
This documentary film by Phillippe Bellaiche and Rachel Leah Jones follows Tsemel's caseload in real-time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work and the personal price one pays for assuming the role of "devil's advocate." Tsemel spoke truth to power before the term became trendy and she'll continue to do so after fear makes it unfashionable. As such, she's a model we're hard-pressed to preserve in Israel/Palestine, and elsewhere.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 26), and 7 p.m. (Jan. 27-29) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org