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Non-Review Review: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell is a paradox of a film, a narrative so propelled with righteous fury that it somehow misses its own point.

Clint Eastwood’s latest is his tightest and leanest narrative since Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, and this is not a coincidence. There’s considerable thematic overlap between Richard Jewell and Sully, both of which speak to themes that interest Eastwood as one of the defining American filmmakers. Like Sully, Richard Jewell is the story of an exception person who heroically saves lives only to witness the bureaucratic institutions of the state (and the press) turn upon them.

Pressing on.

Of course, Richard Jewell is quite distinct from Sully. Eastwood trades out “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks for the more ambiguous figure of Paul Walter Hauser. While Hanks is the embodiment of American decency, a clear-cut spiritual successor to Jimmy Stewart, Hauser has largely been defined by more muddy and murky roles with fantastic turns in films like I, Tonya and BlackKklansman. Indeed, the opening act of Richard Jewell leans into Hauser’s inscrutability, suggesting a more ambiguous interrogation of masculine heroism.

Unfortunately, Richard Jewell does not develop in that direction. Its early suggestions of moral complexity and anxieties about individual as much as collective authority give way to a stirring condemnation of a conspiracy to “railroad an innocent man.” This righteous fury is entirely justified, after all. The press and the authorities demonised Jewell, arguably hounding him to an early grave. However, Richard Jewell winds up so caught up in its righteous fury that it winds up “railroading” another innocent, abusing its power in the same way it accuses the press and authorities.

Lawyer up.

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Non-Review Review: Sully – Miracle on the Hudson

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson has a certain Frank Capra quality to it.

To be fair, a lot of that comes from the casting of Tom Hanks in the title role. Hanks radiates a certain ineffable integrity, a “Hanksian Decency” that informs his performances in films as diverse as Bridge of Spies and Inferno. It is tempting to think of him as “America’s Dad”, particularly given the grey hair and the moustache that he donned for the title role here. However, it is also tempting to think of him as a latter-day Jimmy Stewart, the embodiment of a certain type of fundamental American decency that lends itself to this sort of narrative.

Hanks for the memories.

Hanks for the memories.

Similarly, director Clint Eastwood has a similar philosophy. Eastwood’s films tend to be organised around strong moral principles. Often those principles are articulated in terms of personal responsibility, particularly the responsibility that individuals have for others whether in a professional capacity (J. Edgar) or a personal capacity (Million Dollar Baby) or simply by virtue of being there (Gran Torino). Eastwood’s recurring fascination with individual responsibility makes him a quintessentially American director.

This combination is ideally suited to Sully, which is constructed as something akin to a modern-day American fairytale.

"Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing."

“Mr. Sullenberger goes to the NTSB Debriefing.”

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