“Richard Jewell”–A Hidden Gem

In Richard Jewell, a 2019 Clint Eastwood docudrama, Richard Jewell (played by relative unknown Paul Walter Hauser) , is first adored as a  hero for thwarting the  bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But “alternative facts” and frenzied media coverage turn against him. His daily life is turned upside down when he is considered the principal suspect in the bombing by FBI and local police. 

Jewell is almost a caricature of the lonely white male, living with his mother (Kathy Bates, in an Academy Awards-nominated performance).  Deeply proud of his patriotic duty to uphold the law and protect the community, Jewell goes to herculean efforts to do so.  He  impersonates police on a college campus and  is belligerent to teenagers’ raucus behavior. His excessive obsession  results in the indignities of ridicule and dismissal from his peers and superiors.  Even the teen boys don’t take him seriously.

Then the Olympics bombing occurs.  Finally, Jewell gains the limelight–much to his surprise and satisfaction.  But his behavior fits the FBI profile for a domestic terrorist, and his treatment by government law enforcement, particularly FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) soon becomes a nightmare.  And, of all people, Jewell can’t believe they would treat him as a suspect. 

An engaging and deeply moving performance by Hauser raises this sleeper of a film to an unforgettable one in its portrayal of a bad-luck victim of chance!

Availability: Netflix

“Trouble with the Curve”—Catching the Unexpected

Trouble with the Curve
Trouble with the Curve

This 2012 film is another  Clint Eastwood sports movie. That being said, “Trouble with the Curve” is not so much about sports as it is about a father-daughter relationship. It also touches on how the human element (and an “old-school” methodology) cannot be discounted in favor of technology. (Think: “Money Ball” as its opposite!)

In the opening scene Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is attempting to hide his macular degeneration from the execs at the Atlanta Braves, because, as one of their top scouts, he must be able to spot the next star. But crusty, aging Gus is more than a pair of eyes with over forty years of experience. He can tell a pitch by the crack of the bat and now must fight for the career that defines him. Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a high-powered lawyer on the partner track, has also gained an astonishing knowledge of the sport. But father and daughter are estranged and rarely see each other.

Forced to be together for the first time in years, Mickey and her father travel to North Carolina to look at the slate of possible rookies. Mickey risks her own career to do this. A classic double-bind plot device.

In a surprise supporting role Justin Timberlake plays an aspiring recruiter and former baseball rookie, who tries to woo Mickey even though she is reluctant to become involved.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, you will enjoy this movie. A thoroughly entertaining, feel-good film with some humorous dialogue and some totally predictable scenes. The family secret for the estrangement between father and daughter is one curve this viewer did not expect. A good movie for both adult and teen audiences!

“J. Edgar”—Investigating the Investigator

 

Based upon a script by “Milk” screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, and directed by Clint Eastwood, “J. Edgar” is a biopic of the controversial FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover. In this spellbinding movie, Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Hoover, ages five decades, as he grows from an ambitious young law enforcer to the most powerful, controversial,  and intimidating FBI director the US has ever known.  Even presidents feared him.

“J. Edgar” depicts Hoover’s early career (the 1930’s), including raids on Communist “radicals” and organized crime, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and his most brazen surveillance for the purpose of destroying the presidency of John Kennedy, the career of Robert Kennedy, as well as that of Martin Luther King.  However, it is the secret life of Hoover that is the most compelling and successful part of the narrative, because the film tries to humanize him.  For a man whose life was devoted to extracting and exploiting the secrets of other powerful men and women, Hoover’s own secret life as a closeted homosexual takes central stage as the biography moves between his lifelong relationship with his protégé, Clyde Tolson (superbly played by Armie Hammer) and his domineering, demented mother (the always exceptional Judi Dench).

 

Hoover’s own obsessive-compulsive tendencies–his hidden psychic wounds– drive his relentless concern with his image and the image of the FBI.  Ironically, the primal image of the name “J. Edgar Hoover” today denotes government investigation gone rogue.

 

The structure of the movie and its cinematography, however, are the weakest elements of “J. Edgar”. The overdone flashbacks disconnect important events by decades–moving from the Lindbergh kidnapping to long scenes of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and then back to the Lindbergh kidnapping and trial. Eastwood shoots this story in a washed-out sepia color palette for most of the scenes from the 1930’s through early 50’s with more color added as the dramatic 1960’s emerge in the story. But these visual cues are not enough to maintain a seamless continuity of events. This is the best movie Eastwood has directed of the last four (the other three being “Changeling”, “Invictus”, and “Hereafter”) but not among the best he has done (“Letters to Iwo Jima”, “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”). Nonetheless, I highly recommend this movie for the actors’ bravura performances–especially DiCaprio’s, which defines his career to date.

***Possible spoiler alert!***The scene where DiCaprio dresses in his deceased mother’s clothes triggers a similar scene from “Psycho” and is well worth an Academy nomination in itself for DiCaprio’s chilling, wordless performance!