Richard Jewell movie review: Clint Eastwood, at 89, is still directing outright gems and raging against the ‘p*ssy generation’
Director - Clint Eastwood
Cast - Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde
Having grown up in New Delhi, I’ve developed an intolerance for decency. There is an impatience to this city, an ingrained scepticism that has unfortunately rubbed off on the people who live in it. My gut reaction to acts of kindness is to be suspicious, to the point that whenever I experience it, I suspect good people of having ulterior motives.
Director Clint Eastwood’s new film Richard Jewell, titled as unassumingly as its subject, suggests that this growing cynicism isn’t restricted to certain cities, but is more of a generational thing — and we all know the disdain Eastwood has for millennials. He likes to call us the ‘p*ssy generation’.
Watch the Richard Jewell trailer here
Set five years before 9/11 sent America plummeting into a pit of paranoia, Richard Jewell tells the true story of a security guard who saved dozens of lives after he spotted a suspicious backpack containing a pipe bomb, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. For his bravery, Richard Jewell was hailed as a national hero. But even before the news cycle could organically omit him from the narrative, Richard was once again put into the spotlight, this time as the prime suspect, demonised by the same people who idolised him days ago.
Like several of Eastwood’s late-period films such as Sully and American Sniper, Richard Jewell is also about integrity — a virtue that the great filmmaker is convinced has disappeared from the modern world. One could argue that Eastwood’s movies, at least those that he has directed in the last decade, are a shameless romanticisation of the America that he grew up in. His films are about everyday heroes, men — and they’re always men — who do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. And then came the p*ssy generation, a group of people, Eastwood says, that simply doesn’t want to work, and treats those that do with hostility and disrespect.
An inquiry was initiated against Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, who saved hundreds of passengers after heroically landing his spluttering plane on the Hudson River. In an ideal world, Eastwood said in an interview, “Sully should be running for president.” In American Sniper, the Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was exploited by his country’s absurd foreign policies, repeatedly sent back to fight a war with no end in sight, ultimately rendering him unfit to return to civilian life. In The Mule, an octogenarian veteran of the Korean War was confronted by bankruptcy because of greedy politicians and corporations, forced into a life of crime despite having dedicated decades to honest work. Each of these three men were real people. None of them, Eastwood appears to be yelling through his films, got their due.
In this regard, Richard Jewell is very much up Eastwood’s alley, and the filmmaker through the story channels some of his own anxieties about what the world has become. It is an indictment of the fake news media that can destroy a man’s life in seconds by publishing a poorly researched story; of the liberals who see men like Richard Jewell and decide that he fits the profile of a lone bomber; and of the intellectual elite who jump on the bandwagon to appear ‘woke’.
As always, Eastwood’s plain directorial style allows the writing and the performances to shine, and fortunately on this occasion, both are exemplary. In typical fashion, Eastwood doesn’t rely on a musical score as a crutch — imagine asking Karan Johar to not fall into the safety net of the Dharma tune — but instead shows faith in the cast and crew that he has assembled to communicate a clear vision.
As the titular character, newcomer Paul Walter Hauser is phenomenal. It’s difficult to effectively portray righteousness on screen without appearing either deluded or grating. Hauser does it with an understated efficiency that is emblematic of Eastwood’s filmmaking. Richard is an easy man to get behind because we understand where he comes from, and we believe him when he says he respects authority, which makes his slow loss-of-innocence all the more tragic.
Eastwood surrounds Hauser with seasoned supporting players such as Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates as Richard’s lawyer and mother, respectively, and Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm, both of whom play characters that, on paper, could have very easily been interpreted as villainous. But in the film, they’re shown as complicated individuals who make mistakes, not necessarily because they were born evil, but because on certain occasions, they chose to cut corners.
We’re suspicious of decency because the very idea has been systematically been beaten out of us. In the film’s deeply moving final moments, Richard has a moment of clarity. After being relentlessly harassed and publicly shamed for close to a 100 days, he asks the same FBI agents whom he once idolised, “You think the next time some security guard sees a suspicious package that he or she’s going to call it in? I doubt it. They’re going to look at it and think, ‘I don’t want to be another Richard Jewell.’”
And so they’re going turn a blind eye and look the other way. A couple of dozen of people will die, but they, the ‘p*ssy generation’, will not be inconvenienced. The world will go on.