Most movies that focus on journalists and what they do depict people who follow that profession in heroic terms. The gold standard for this genre was 1976’s “All the President’s Men.” The movie depicts Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein digging into the morass that was Watergate, uncovering the truth about the scandal that eventually doomed the Nixon Administration.
The movie was based on the book by Woodward and Bernstein, so it understandably lacked nuance and balance. “All the President’s Men” starred the most bankable actors of the era, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
A more modern version of the journalist as a hero movie was “The Post,” directed by the great Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. The movie depicted that events surrounding the publication of The Pentagon Papers by the Washington Post in the early 1970s. The story avoided any discussion of the ethics of a newspaper printing government secrets. In the world of “The Post” the Washington Post saved American democracy.
“Richard Jewell,” the upcoming film directed by Clint Eastwood, takes a decidedly different view of the mainstream media. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, “Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) here take a rather different view of the Fourth Estate, portraying it as reckless, corrupt and immoral.”
In 1996, during a music celebration surrounding the Atlantic Summer Olympics, Jewell, an overweight, socially awkward security guard who lives with his mother, discovered a pipe bomb. His quick thinking in clearing the area likely saved hundreds of lives. Initially, Jewell was seen as a hero. The acclaim did not last very long.
The FBI examined Jewell and worked up a profile that suggested that he was the sort who would deliberately plant a bomb to save people from it, making him a hero. The media, as depicted in the movie, runs with the theory and paints Jewell as a weirdo monster.
“The mob of reporters covering the story resembles a plague of locusts, with any little tidbit being transformed into big news as the media tries to finger a culprit. Jewell, along with his mother, must endure this combination of attack and deprivation for three months until, finally, the FBI realizes that, from a purely logistical point of view, the young man couldn’t have physically pulled off what they believed he did.”
As depicted in the movie, the members of the media are not the heroic, dogged reporters like Woodward and Bernstein, digging for the truth. They are running with a narrative as a pack, uncaring as to whether it resembles the truth or not. Richard Jewell is regarded less as a human being, but as a target to be destroyed.
In other words, like Hollywood in Toto notes, “Yes, the events in the film took place more than 20 years ago, but once again Eastwood gets the zeitgeist better than his peers. While they stumble over repeated Fox News films and fawning media portraits, he’s showcasing what’s happening in the media today.”
It should be noted that the events of “Richard Jewell” take place before the rise of social media, which has become a battleground for conflicting narratives.
It should be noted that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is complaining that one scene, in which one of its reporters tries to get information out of an FBI agent in exchange for sex, is inaccurate, The reporter in question died of an overdose of prescription pain medication she was taking for back pain in 2001.
“Richard Jewell” is already getting Oscar buzz, thanks to the enthusiastic reception it received at AFI Fest. Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Jewell, is being mentioned for best actor and Eastwood, now pushing 90, as best director. The movie is the latest in a series of Eastwood directed projects, including “American Sniper” and “Sully,” about ordinary men caught up in extraordinary situations.
Finally, one should be reminded that Eastwood is not a typical Hollywood liberal. He famously did an improve at the 2012 Republican National Convention during which he addressed then-President Barack Obama in the form of an empty chair. His star power, however, was not enough to cause Mitt Romney to win that year.