It is unusual to see an ethics train wreck continue to roll along to the extent that it affects the movie about the ethics train wreck, but that was what happened with the Richard Jewell saga. Remember the definition of an ethics train wreck: an episode in which virtually everyone who becomes involved in it, however tangentially, becomes entangled in ethics mistakes and misconduct. The “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck (or the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck) even yanked me on board.
I’ve already written about the film, directed by Clint Eastwood and a 2019 holiday bomb (no pun intended). My focus then was on the single unethical feature of the screenplay, its unfair portrayal of the real-life Atlanta-Constitution reporter, the late Kathy Scruggs, who broke the FBI leak that the security guard who had become a national celebrity by detecting the deadly pipe bomb that had exploded at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was suspected of making the bomb himself. Though film reviewers usually register few rejections when films smear the deceased in pursuit of a more compelling narrative, “Richard Jewell’s” claim that Scruggs traded sex for the leak walked into the #MeToo buzzsaw, and on that basis alone, Clint’s movie was trashed by reviewers and pundits alike.
Me Too, and I hadn’t seen it. I wrote in part,
I strongly doubt the average viewer passed on the film because it may have been unfair to a dead reporter. Who had the genius idea that releasing a film about the press’s abuse of a strange, sad, fat man played by an unknown actor would be a Christmas season hit? I had no interest in seeing the movie, and I’m an admirer of Eastwood and will cheer on any further proof of how rotten our journalism has become, but why pay to see the news media falsely try to destroy a security guard in 1996 when the same institution has been trying to destroy the President of the United States for three years?… So the news media was incompetent and vicious to Richard Jewell? That’s supposed to get me to the movie theater?
Nevertheless, let me be clear: I hate what the movie did to Kathy Scruggs, just as I detest it every time an individuals can’t defend themselves are lied about in a movie, misleading audiences and scarring their reputations….
Unless Eastwood had strong evidence that the reporter was trading sex for information, he should not have used her name. He owes the Scruggs family an apology, and I’m glad his movie is tanking.
Gee, the seats on the “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck are so comfy, and the fare on the snack car is excellent!
I finally saw “Richard Jewell” this week, thanks to boredom and desperation while being trapped in my home by the Wuhan Virus, and it is a superb movie, easily one of Eastwood’s best as a director. It is also an outstanding ethics film, raising many important ethics issues beyond journalism. The story has great relevance to today, not only regarding how the news media operates, but also law enforcement tactics, the FBI, profiling, prejudice, the corrupting influence of power, the destructive forces of celebrity and more.
The film is not “about about the press’s abuse of a strange, sad, fat man”; that was the false impression that the reviews gave to non-viewers (like me), and it was a misrepresentation based on the news media’s own agenda—imagine that! The story of that “strange, sad, fat man” which I earlier in my December post had said was “mostly forgotten” should not be forgotten, because it is an American and human tragedy with many lessons to teach. Jewell himself, who died at 44 from heart failure, was far more than a “strange, sad, fat man,” though the FBI, news media and public defining him by that cruel stereotype is a major reason the ugly train wreck started rolling.
And that “unknown actor”? His name is Paul Walter Hauser, and in my reasonably informed opinion as an experienced stage director and acting coach of some success, he gave one of the finest acting performances in a challenging role I have ever seen in a movie, not just last year, but ever. When Burt Reynolds was a young man, he was befriended by Spencer Tracy. Telling the veteran Hollywood legend that he was an aspiring actor, Reynolds took Tracy’s response to heart and said years later that it guided his work ever since. Tracy told him, “Well, don’t let them catch you at it.” You never catch Hauser acting in “Richard Jewell.” His performance is flawless, but the Oscars snubbed him, partially to punish Eastwood, I suspect, but also because he’s obese, white, male,and a relative nobody of the sort that only gets Supporting Actor nominations, which is where the Academy likes to show its “diversity.” *
Shame on them, and shame on me for any part I played in discouraging people from seeing “Richard Jewell.”
In a post later today, I’ll try to make amends by explaining the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck, the one involving the man, not the movie.
*(The movie also was seen by Hollywood progressives as siding with President Trump by impugning the integrity of the FBI as well as reporters. Mustn’t do that...)