Review of the Film: Richard Jewell

Jewell

I went into this movie the same way I did Argo.  I remembered bits and pieces of the actual events, but not the full story.  I came out the same way as well, loving this film.

This is the story of Richard Jewell, a security guard who stumbled across a suspicious package at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and whose actions saved dozens of lives. His character is brilliantly portrayed in the film by Paul Walter Hauser.  His character goes from national hero to a suspect in a matter of days.

On the surface, this film is about how the media and the FBI conspired against an innocent man, ruining his life to fit their agenda. The media is properly portrayed as corrupt; sleeping with the FBI to obtained leaked information. The FBI is show to bend and break all of their rules in pursuit of bringing down Richard Jewell.

Think on that for a moment…because the parallels between this case and current events are both deliberate and eerie at the same time.  In an era of text messages, weekly leaks to the media, secret and potentially corrupt FISA courts; the story of Richard Jewell is a milestone and a warning to all of us.  Perhaps that is why this film resonated so strongly with me.

Note:  In real life, reporter Kathy Scruggs did not sleep with her FBI informant – it is one of the few elements of the film that are embellished. While some have thrown the film under the bus for this, it is a scene that is a metaphor, and I get it. It always strikes me as odd when Hollywood gets upset with some movies for not being accurate, and praises others for the same thing.  Could it be because Clint Eastwood is a proud conservative?

Jewell is almost childlike as portrayed in the film.  He wants to help the FBI, even when they are working against him.  Each time his character talks you cringe at what he might say.  You find yourself torn with this character because you can see what he is up against, but he simply refuses to remove the FBI from its pedestal in his heart.  The Bureau tries to turn his friends against him and when he doesn’t fit their profile, they simply charge forward with new theories that border on ridiculous.

The media is seen in the film as jackals, if not worse.  The reporter character does have her moment of redemption, but it does not give Richard Jewell back what was taken from him.  Kathy Bates’ performance as his mother is outstanding and reminded me of my own mother in far too many aspects. It says a great deal that the casting of this film was as good as it was.

The writers and directors have subtly left you wondering about big government and the forces it can bring to bear against people.  Don’t get me wrong, I share information with the FBI on cases I write about. I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that the FBI as a whole is bad.  Some bad agents and administrators though can tarnish the entirety of the whole organization.  We see that here with the lead investigator in the film, who refuses to admit that Jewell had nothing to do with the bombing.

Nor is there any apologies in this film…from the media or the FBI.  That too is poignant.  When everyone believes they are doing the right thing with the wrong consequences, no one is willing to step up and say, “What we did was wrong.”  The closest we get is the media character in the film.

As a reader, writer, and watcher – I love underdog stories.  The film Richard Jewell is one of those, the epitome of an underdog.  The odds are against the lone hero, yet in the end, the hero prevails. If you cannot enjoy that kind of story, don’t watch this film.

I noticed that the theater was mostly filled with people near my age, which is sad. I think a lot of younger people need to see a movie like this so that they can frame current events against it.

This is a sobering film, one that has dramatic ups and downs.  It leaves you thinking, wondering, and in my case, worrying.  Out of this year’s crop of films, Avengers Endgame ranks first, Richard Jewell is number two.  While I am not sure I will buy a copy and re-watch it, I am glad that I did see it and you should too.  I give it a solid five out of five stars.

Review – HBO Documentary Beware the Slenderman

slenderman
When urban legend becomes folklore becomes murder attempt

This HBO documentary is compelling, chilling, disturbing and frightening all at the same time.  We’ve probably all heard about the case – two young girls who attacked and nearly killed a friend of theirs because of a fictitious character on the internet called Slenderman. 

As a true crime writer, I knew that the media only marginally was telling the story…and I was right.  This documentary is not just about the crime, it is about how some urban legend takes becomes folklore that is trusted and believed.  I was familiar with this phenomena, having written a book on the Scottish cannibal, Sawney Bean.  Slenderman doesn’t exist, but thanks to the internet and Photoshop, this mythical strange tall kidnapper of children has developed a near cult-like following. 

This is a story of two quite normal young girls that get caught up in the stories about the Slenderman and believe they must kill their friend to prove themselves worthy of him.  Separately, they are seemingly normal kids.  Together, they became a single killer. There are elements here that harken back to Capote’s In Cold Blood

You may be quick to blame the parents for letting them on the web sites, but when you watch the show you come to realize that these were not negligent parents.  They simply had no idea of the power of images and words might have over their daughters. 

The filming of this documentary is outstanding.  If you watch Killing Fields on Discovery, you will get the same vibe here – lots of drone shots and angles of neighborhoods that cast a sinister shadow and add to the ambiance.  The use of the interrogation footage of the two would-be murderers is creepy all on its own.  One girl was more concerned about the distance she had walked before her capture rather than what she had done to her friend. The victim had been stabbed 19 times.  It’s gut wrenching and you can’t shut it off because it is so well done.    

This documentary is not the complete story – the victim and her family did not participate in the filming – for obvious reasons.  It is complete enough though….so much that you will never let your kids onto the internet again.  That cannot be a bad thing.  Some of the footage is so disturbing and captivating that you come through the viewing emotionally wrung out. 

While the Slenderman is digital folklore, his impact in our reality is quite tangible…and chilling.  I give this a solid five of five stars.  Kudos HBO!