A friend of mine called this morning who’d seen Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell last night in Hollywood. She knew I was seeing it this morning in New York. “It’s going to upset your apple cart of an Oscar list,” she said.
She was right. Eastwood, at 90, has made a jewel of a film in “Richard Jewell,” a real masterclass in filmmaking. Eastwood will have to be nominated for Best Director. The screenplay and music (by Arturo Sandoval) will have to be nominated. And the actors, the actors now roll right into the top 5 in their respective categories. Paul Walter Hauser is the most unlikely leading man as Jewell. Sam Rockwell, now on a run, goes into Best Supporting Actor. Kathy Bates in Supporting Actress.
But I would be remiss if I left out Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Ian Gomez and the great Nina Arianda, who plays the whole movie with a Russian accent as if she never left Moscow.
Richard Jewell, dead since 2007, was falsely accused by everyone– the media, the FBI, the Atlanta Journal Constitution– of planting a bomb that blew up at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. For a month in the summer of 96 he was Public Enemy Number 1 until no case could be made besides anecdotal supposition. A year later the real bomber was found, but Jewell’s name was ruined.
There is already the outbreak of a scandal surrounding this movie because in the film an Atlanta Journal female reporter (Wilde, perfection) sleeps with the head of the local FBI office (Jon Hamm in his best work since “Mad Men”) to get Jewell’s name for a scoop. The AJC is furious, insisting this never happened. Frankly it doesn’t matter. This is the usual Oscar campaign mud thrown when a possible Best Picture appears on the scene and threatens the apple cart. Please, please ignore it.
Now keep in mind that filming began five months ago, in June of this year. And the movie is finished. Eastwood was beginning his 90th year (he actually turns 90 next May). His late career directing has been something astonishing. From highlights like “Unforgiven” to “American Sniper,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Mule,” to “Gran Torino,” this is an undeniable resume of classics. Even the ones that didn’t quite work remain watchable and underrated.
Until recently, Eastwood also wrote his own scores, or worked on them with his son. For “The Mule,” he tapped Sandoval who returns here with a gorgeous soundtrack that sounds like Clint wrote it. It’s just as good.
Eastwood plays with the idea of American heroes and anti-heroes in his films. Certainly he’s humanized Jewell miraculously, just the way he made Captain Sullenberger in “Sully” into a three dimensional figure. Jewell isn’t handsome or smart, he’s not glib or literate. But with Billy Ray’s banger of a screenplay he builds Jewell into a massively sympathetic, likable hero. What’s the secret? That the people on Jewell’s side– at least in the movie– all like him. So we like him.
The movie is based on a 1997 magazine article by Marie Brenner, and another book by two reporters. Were they completely factual? I guess we’ll find out soon as every complaint will be brought forward. Is the movie factual? Again, as soon as someone says, that’s not what happened, put your fingers in your ears. This is a dramatization of the facts, it’s not a documentary. And we’re so lucky to have it, and to still have Eastwood with his economical, no- nonsense style.