Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

Hero Takes A Fall

Richard Jewell

by George Wolf

Richard Jewell is a film Clint Eastwood has reportedly been trying to direct for years, and no wonder. It’s the story of a heroic man forced to fight against bureaucrats and parasites who question his heroism, which seems to be Clint’s favored genre.

Jewell, of course, was a hero at the Centennial Park bombing during the Atlanta olympics in 1996. A security guard who first spotted the bomb and was helping clear the scene when it exploded, Jewell was later named as the FBI’s prime suspect, and had his life turned upside down for months until the feds gave up.

It’s a pretty clear case of a man wronged, and a compelling story clearly worthy of a film. But while Eastwood and writer Billy Ray tell much of it well, their zeal for painting broad-stroked villains is hard to overcome.

After years of standout supporting roles (I, Tonya, Black KkKlansman) Paul Walter Hauser takes the lead as Jewell and grounds the film with a terrific and often touching performance. As suspicion around Jewell grows, the bonds created with his lawyer and his mother (Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates, both great) show Eastwood and Ray at their nuanced best.

The law and the press don’t get off so easy. That’s not to say they should get a pass, far from it, but Atlanta Journal reporter Kathy Scruggs is drawn so one dimensionally, Olivia Wilde might as well be twirling a mustache every time she’s onscreen.

The Journal is currently threatening legal action over the depiction of Scruggs (now deceased, as is Jewell) trading sexual favors to an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) for info, but the film’s slut-shaming isn’t reserved for just one reporter. They’re all whores.

And in case you miss the strategically placed sticker in the lawyer’s office that reads “I fear the government more than I fear terrorism,” Eastwood returns to it more than once. That’s grandstanding, not character development, and ends up undercutting a layer we could have gotten so much more intimately solely through Rockwell’s performance.

Richard Jewell‘s story is a good one, a tragic one, and a cautionary tale that deserves telling. And the film it deserves – the one where a common man finds the will to fight for his dignity – is in here, you just have to wade through some blanket scapegoating to find it.

Wing and a Prayer


by George Wolf

Carrying a true American icon both in front of the camera and behind it, Sully lands with a smooth craftsmanship as fitting as it is inevitable.

In January of 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson, landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River after dual engine failure, saving the lives of all 155 souls on board. Based on Sullenberger’s own memoir, this tale of American heroism in the face of extreme circumstance probably had Clint Eastwood’s name on the director’s chair before the Captain even finished his book.

And really, who else is more suited for the helm of a vessel in peril than Tom Hanks?

Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki rightly anchor the film with the miraculous landing, while highlighting the human drama of a conflicted hero and the lives that hung in the balance during 208  fateful seconds. We get a subtle overview of Sully’s four decades of flight experience, nicely balanced with glimpses into the lives of his passengers and the seemingly random events that brought them all together.

It’s a strange thing for an actor to reach the level Hanks has, where he is universally regarded as such a treasure that his startling performance three years ago in Captain Philips became some sort of jarring reminder that, oh yeah, he’s good. This title role bears obvious similarities, but Hanks is able to illustrate the differences with easy grace. From Sully’s nagging self-doubt, to a determined defense of his choice to bypass nearby runways, to the stifling effects of sudden fame, Hanks carves out layers that are unique and deeply felt.

Eastwood builds the tension quietly, maintaining a consistent tone of understatement that makes the spectacle of the water landing all the more breathtaking (and worth the extra dough for IMAX). Kudos, too, for the almost Rashoman-style approach to framing the tragedy, and the respectful acknowledgment to the painful memories rekindled by the image of a crippled plane in NYC.

Not every scene embraces subtlety and not every line finds its mark, but Sully does, because it approaches the story precisely the way Sully himself seemed to approach his job. It’s a film that is modest, prepared and professional, with important moments that rise to the occasion.




No Absolutes

American Sniper

by George Wolf

Clint Eastwood has the reputation of a low maintenance, “let’s not overthink this” type of director. Sometimes that’s much too apparent, with films lacking in structure, passion and detail.

American Sniper is not one of those films.

This one is tense, heartfelt, wise and weighty, driven by a revelatory lead performance and crafted by a director deeply invested in doing justice to his subject.

It’s based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL credited with being “the deadliest sniper in American history.” The very nature of the story is rife with opportunities for manipulation, be them jingoistic or judgmental, but credit Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall with sidestepping them all.

They grab you by the throat with a breathless opening, then expertly work alternating periods of deafening brutality and quiet stillness. In fact, the silence in American Sniper could be easily be regarded as part of the original score, as it is utilized just as effectively as any stirring music.

As Kyle, Bradley Cooper is astonishing and a well-deserved Oscar nominee. Anyone who still thinks he’s just a pretty boy needs to put down People magazine and pay attention to the career Cooper’s been putting together. He’s turned in one stellar, varied performance after another the last few years, and here he commands the screen like never before.

More than just adding weight or adopting Kyle’s Texas drawl, Cooper completely embodies Kyle from the inside out. We see his early determination to fight America’s enemies just as sincerely as we feel the paradox of a man ravaged by the battlefield who can’t feel at home anywhere else. Eastwood smartly gives Cooper many tight close ups and the actor doesn’t flinch, letting his face speak volumes on duty and conflict.

Are there sad ironies in the fact that many who were driven to military service by the events of 9/11 were sent to Iraq? Of course, but this is not the film to explore them, or appease those who will be satisfied only if Kyle is painted as a merciless monster or, conversely, an untouchable hero.  By avoiding these absolutes, American Sniper becomes a gripping look at the other side of The Hurt Locker. It’s an intensely personal story that manages to feel like part of America’s very fabric without selling its soul to do so.




It’s a Jersey Ting!


Jersey Boys

by George Wolf

The end credits in Jersey Boys roll over a musical number that bursts suddenly with toe-tapping exuberance. While it’s a fine way to send an audience home smiling, it’s also an unfortunate reminder of one of the elements missing from the previous 130-odd minutes.

Director Clint Eastwood’s film version of the Tony award-winning tribute to the Four Seasons ends up caught in an awkward space between stage and screen. Either Eastwood had too much reverence for the source material, or too little concern for what differentiates successful projects on stage and on film.

Eastwood stocks the cast with stage veterans, starting at the top, with John Lloyd Young reprising his award-winning Broadway role as lead singer Frankie Vallli. Valli has one of the most unique voices in pop music history, and though Young can’t match it, he comes impressively close.

Still, the musical numbers are strangely lacking in punch. Though the songs are instantly recognizable, the performances are filmed with a detached, esoteric quality, lacking the period authenticity of Alison Anders’s Grace of My Heart or the joyous fun of Tom Hanks’s That Thing You Do.

Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapt their own musical book with a condensed version of the Rashomon-style storytelling utilized on the stage. Group members Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Valli still offer conflicting, first-person views on their shared history, but the melodramatic tone mutes any possible resonance.

Many of the performances seem equally forced, as Eastwood can’t get the theatre-trained actors to dial it down and realize they no longer need to emote for the folks in the back row.

Eastwood does make the effort to include his requisite nods to Catholicism, as well as cheesy in-jokes on actor Joe Pesci’s pivotal role in Four Seasons history, and the director’s own “spaghetti western” background.

Ultimately, the boy’s rise from petty criminals to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members deserves better. Jersey Boys keeps their story at arm’s length, never bringing any intimacy or magic to the screen adaptation. It may well leave you humming a few tunes, but that’s about as deep an impression as it makes.