I’m having trouble reading much of anything other than the news. But I am moved, comforted, distracted, entertained, and even provoked in good ways by stories told on the screen. My husband and I watched a couple of Clint Eastwood movies last week that were almost unbearably good, “Richard Jewell” (2019) and “The Mule” (2018)…
“Richard Jewell” dramatizes the story of the man who found the knapsack containing a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a bomb which 30 minutes later killed 2 people and injured more than 100. Jewell, a security officer, was initially hailed as a hero for drawing attention to the knapsack and urgently moving crowds away from it. The FBI subsequently identified him as the prime suspect in their investigation of the bombing. It wasn’t wrong for the FBI to investigate his role in the day’s events – of course not – but the manner in which the investigation took place came close to destroying him. This movie explores many things: the role of the media, the power of the FBI, and the importance of constitutional rights protecting the accused. Even more compelling is the portrayal of Richard Jewell – an overweight, failed police officer living at home with his mother – his strengths, weaknesses, internal contradictions – and his fundamental gentleness. The movie spotlights the relationship that grows between him and his lawyer, a relationship in which Jewell finds his strength. Eastwood produced and directed “Richard Jewell” but does not appear in it.
Eastwood produced, directed, and also stars in “The Mule,” based on the life of a WWII veteran in his 80s who became a drug courier for the Sinaloa Cartel. “The Mule” takes greater fictional liberties than “Richard Jewell”, with the main character written as a Korean War vet named Earl Stone. Earl has spent much of his post-war life on the road as a salesman, which leads to the dissolution of his marriage. Down on his luck, in financial trouble, he is approached by a young man who feels sympathy for him. Earl goes on to become a respected and even beloved drug mule, known as “Tata” in the cartel – but all good (and bad) things must come to an end. Again, the exploration of character makes the movie. Earl makes good and bad choices, like the rest of us, as he tries to do the right thing for those he loves. It takes him a while to figure out what that is.
Is Clint Eastwood the best at female characters? In these movies, no. The portrayal of the female reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who initially writes about Richard Jewell lacks nuance to say the least. What Clint Eastwood is great at? Tales of good guys and bad guys and the yearning to be a better person than you are.