Scott Johnson: My Movie of 2019

This is a movie for the Age of Trump. The FBI and the media ruin the life of the man who discovered the bomb and saved many lives at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Richard Jewell

My movie of 2017 was Thank You For Your Service. The film introduced me to the astounding book by Washington Post editor David Finkiel, the second of two he has written based on the soldiers he met while embedded with 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the surge. What I found most haunting in the film came straight out of the book. I recommended the movie and the book here on Power Line and in Hollywood in Toto’s “Conservative Guide for Christmas 2018.”

I don’t think I had a movie of 2018, but I’m back this year. It’s the Clint Eastwood film I saw this past weekend: Richard Jewell (trailer below). The small theater in which it was showing was less than half full. Is the film dying at the box office? Maybe not. Turning to the Tomatometer, we find that the film has a fresh rating of 72% by critics and 96% by the audience.

Christian Toto’s comments on Thank You For Your Service may have alerted me to Thank You For Your Service in December 2017. This month Christian wrote about Richard Jewell at Hollywood in Toto: “The film offers strong performances, a crackerjack script and the kind of underdog saga that appeals to our all-American spirit. It’s one of the year’s best films, even if awards season is giving Richard Jewell the cold shoulder….[Given its wide distribution, c]onservatives nationwide will be able to see it at a theater near them. Let’s be blunt. There’s no excuse to miss Richard Jewell.”

This is a movie for the Age of Trump. The FBI and the media ruin the life of the man who discovered the bomb and saved many lives at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan emphasizes the resonance with current events in In ‘Richard Jewell,’ a hero is falsely implicated by the media. Sound familiar?” I think Rotten Tomatoes would place O’Sullivan among the 28% of critics panning the film. The New York Times’s more perceptive A.O. Scott also picks up the resonance — you can’t miss it — but favorably reviews the film in “The wrong man.”

What a story Eastwood has to tell in the film, and he tells it in an appealingly straightforward style. The guy is 89 years old. As the lady says in When Harry Met Sally, I’ll have what he’s having. Watching this film, I thought back to the first film Eastwood directed, 1971’s Play Misty For Me. By this time Eastwood was already a bankable Hollywood star himself.

Despite the controversy it has generated, Richard Jewell seems to me to have a higher ratio of fact to fiction than most films “based on a true story.” It draws in part on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article “The ballad of Richard Jewell” and on the just-published book by Kent Alexander and Kent Salwen, The Suspect (Alexander appears in the Times video below).

Looking around yesterday for resources online, I found Nancy Coleman’s New York Times story “How the Investigation Into Richard Jewell Unfolded” (video below). I also found Violet Kim’s Slate column “What’s fact and what’s fiction in Richard Jewell.”

Speaking of resonance with the Age of Trump, I should note that CNN had a substantial role in the media frenzy that ruined Jewell’s life. The Washington Post’s film-related coverage is not entirely worthless. The Post has published Henry Schuster’s column “I helped make Richard Jewell famous — and ruined his life in the process.” Schuster was an investigative producer for CNN during the Olympics bombing and helped CNN secure an interview with Jewell in its immediate aftermath.

Jewell died in 2006 at the age of 44. Schuster now (almost) offers Jewell a belated apology. He also offers this lesson: “In my own reporting, I’ve learned to be more skeptical of sources, especially when they claim to speak for government — especially at its highest levels.”

He adds: “But the lesson is, that isn’t always enough. It’s also how you report it and how everyone else is reporting it, too. Someone else’s guilty plea and several court settlements didn’t give Jewell his good name back. Maybe the film finally will.”


Scott Johnson

Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney who writes for Power Line and serves on the board of Alpha News.