Old Man, Old Voice? Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’

★ ★ ★  

Richard Jewell is the name of the latest Clint Eastwood film and also its titular character. Jewell was a real person who detected a bomb threat at a concert hosted in celebration of the 1996 Olympics which took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The police could not prevent the bomb from exploding but because of Jewell, thousands of more deaths were prevented. He was declared a hero at first but in a cruel twist of fate, soon the FBI and the media began to frame him as the bomber. The film makes the case for the innocence of Jewell; he was of course flawed but it is apparent that he was a good, innocent person overall. The seasoned director Clint Eastwood creates a riveting film of already compelling material.

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What is most interesting about this film for me is how distinctive Eastwood’s voice is in it. Admittedly, the only other film directed by Eastwood I have seen is Gran Torino but I still do feel like I have a clear idea of his style from only those two films. For one thing, as usual, American patriotism is very blatant. For example, the door to Jewell’s and his mother’s apartment is decorated with two small American flags. It could be argued that this film is critical of the American government as an institution but for me, the film only ever challenged the FBI and never went as far as the White House.

The film is very masculine, which is typical of Eastwood too. But in regards to its treatment of Olivia Wilde’s character, Richard Jewell leans into toxic masculinity. The portrayal of Wilde’s character, Kathy Scruggs, has come under scrutiny from critics and with good reason. The film implies that Scruggs sleeps with an FBI agent in exchange for information when in truth, the real Scruggs found out that the FBI were investigating Richard Jewell through her boyfriend who worked for the organisation. This distinction is very important to make because as it stands now, the film misrepresents a real person and it further perpetuates a stereotype that female journalists sleep with clients in order to get information. 

I find that I am in a tricky position with regards to Richard Jewell because while it did engage me throughout, it often didn’t sit well with me. I do believe this unease on my part can be attributed to Eastwood’s directorial voice. For me, Richard Jewell is a very clear example of how influential the director’s point of view can be on a film.


Brigid Molloy – Film & TV Editor