‘Richard Jewell’ Fits the Profile of a Classic Clint Eastwood Biopic

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CREDIT: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language (Including Innuendo) and a Bloody Crime Scene

Release Date: December 13, 2019

The real life stories that Clint Eastwood chooses for his films make me think he wants to say something grand about society at large. But then he tells them in such a way that makes it clear that he is just talking about this one particular story, especially in the case of Richard Jewell. (That statement comes with the caveat that there are several moments that viewers can extrapolate to draw their own broader conclusions.) During the 1996 Summer Olympics, the title fellow discovered a backpack packed with a bomb while working security at a concert at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. After alerting authorities and helping spectators clear the area, he was initially hailed as a hero in the media. But then the FBI leaked information to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicating that Jewell was considered a suspect, leading to him being constantly hounded by an invasive investigation and a phalanx of relentless reporters outside his home.

Jewell fits the profile of a particular type of lone bomber terrorist: white, male, former military or law enforcement, or wannabe law enforcement, and presumably with a hero complex fantasy wherein he plants a deadly weapon so that he can save people by “discovering” it. Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell with a confidence and sureness of himself that keeps underlining how much he fits that profile. He has a cache of hunting weapons, a hollowed-out grenade from a military surplus store that he uses as a paperweight, and a deep knowledge of terrorism and anti-terrorism techniques that he is perfectly happy to regale his friends and family with. He’s a bit naive, but not so naive that he doesn’t recognize when public opinion has wildly swung against him. He may not be the culprit, but that by no means absolves all people like him. The message of this one movie is that in this one case, this one guy who fits the profile isn’t guilty.

So when considered as just one particular story that doesn’t deign to have broader implications, Richard Jewell is a riveting tale of someone who was forced to stand up for himself in a way he never thought he would need to. The most crucial scene happens when his lawyer (a nimble and righteously angry Sam Rockwell) exhorts him to stop being so meek and get upset. Hauser lets down his armor and reveals that he could hardly be any angrier, but that doesn’t mean he can change who he fundamentally is as a person. And that is someone who has always believed in the virtue of respecting authority and is now coming to grips with how that authority can be weaponized against the wrong person. Richard Jewell is just one guy, and this one big thing just happened to happen to him. Somehow he survived, and Clint Eastwood was happy to let us know how.

Richard Jewell is Recommended If You Like: The Mule, Classic Olympics highlights, Vintage news clips

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Suspicious Backpacks

This Is a Movie Review: In ‘The Mule,’ Clint Eastwood is an Unlikely Drug Trafficker Who Complains About the Internet

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García, Isabel Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Eugene Cordero

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Casual Racist Slurs and Showing Someone a Good Time (*Wink Wink*) for the Night

Release Date: December 14, 2018

The Mule does not need to feature casual racism and crankiness about how young people are ruining everything with their newfangled technology, but it stars and is directed by Clint Eastwood, so what are you gonna do? At this point in time, he can at least be entertaining as a self-parody. This is, after all, a movie in which he literally says “if you can’t open a fruit box without calling the Internet” and “Damn Internet, it ruins everything.” Or maybe this ultimate cinematic tough guy is actually self-aware and toying around with his reputation. In one moment, when he calls a black family “Negroes” while helping them change a tire, he does get chided for his ignorance. But it isn’t like that scene even needs to exist. Nor does there need to be a scene when he makes a connection with lesbian motorcyclists who proudly call themselves “dykes on bikes.” If The Mule is woke, it is simplistically so, which is fairly amusing, but also a little concerning.

There is a level of professionalism but also a lack of consideration that makes The Mule entertaining and imbues it with a strong message but also renders it shallow. The script is based on a New York Times article about the real-life story of Leo Sharp, who in his 80s became a drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel. Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a fictionalized version of Sharp. He has spent decades dedicating himself to his horticulture career at the expense of his family, and now that the bottom has dropped out on his business, he finds himself turning to a much more lucrative and much more illegal profession.

The story of a man who never made time for his wife and daughter because he was too focused on his flowers is certainly different, but everything else about The Mule is predictable, sometimes worryingly so. Most of the characters who are people of color are cartel members, while all of the white characters are either Earl and his friends and family or DEA agents. That in and of itself is not wrong as it may very well reflect reality, but in 2018 it feels tone deaf not to more carefully consider that racial divide. And that really is a shame in this case, because The Mule actually does appear interested in taking a more unique approach to the material. The plot hinges on Earl realizing that it is never too late to be a good spouse and parent, a lesson he attempts to impart to his cartel handlers and the DEA agent on his tail (Bradley Cooper). It is a fascinating story on its own that also comes across on screen as mostly fascinating, but it’s spiked with a few too many shots of Eastwood crankiness.

The Mule is Recommended If You Like: The Crankiness and Casual Racism of Late-Era Clint Eastwood

Grade: 3 out of 5 Dykes on Bikes for Entertainment Value/2 out of 5 Stereotypes for Social Value

 

This Is a Movie Review: Sully

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sully-tom-hanks-2016

The main conflict driving Sully is the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into US Airways Flight 1549. The implicit question seems to be: Was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger really a hero? To which presumably every viewer would respond, “Of course!” I suppose the NTSB must do their due diligence to determine if an emergency runway landing was possible, but at a certain point (i.e., right away), you can’t help but ask, “These people do realize that both engines failed and yet everyone survived, don’t they?”

The easy criticism would be to say that Sully should have just focused on the actual Hudson River landing (by far its strongest feature in both technical and dramatic heft). The trouble, though, is that wouldn’t make for a very long movie. The birds fly into the engines almost immediately, there are then only a few minutes to decide what to do, and rescue crews are right on the scene. If this were all shown in real time, it would last about 30 minutes. The entire flight is basically presented twice over, and that is mostly a good decision.

Eventually, everyone decides that indeed this was heroism of the highest order (and not just from Sully, but from everybody involved), and somehow, instead of saying, “Took you long enough,” I instead was roused (and relieved by a zinger of a final line). That is due mostly to high-class acting – of course Tom Hanks as Sully, with Aaron Eckhart right by his side, and also Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan too awesome to hate as the NTSB crew. (Laura Linney does what she can with the cliché role of “hero’s wife on phone,” which is to say: she’s Laura Linney.) The ultimate results of the investigation declare: this rescue was even more amazing than we could have ever imagined. We were already pretty sure about that, but now we’re sure enough to last two lifetimes.

I give Sully 8 Happy Endings out of 10 Frantic Phone Calls, but I must take away 2 Canadian Geese for the Probably Unfair Treatment of the NTSB.