I generally resent recommending art for political reasons. I believe art and beauty transcend ideology and should be judged on aesthetic merit first and foremost. In the case of “Richard Jewell,” however, the unusual point of view moves the film in a novel direction and makes it a compelling standout feature.
Director Clint Eastwood is an avowed libertarian, and “Richard Jewell” is probably the single most self-consciously libertarian film he’s ever made.
Of course, I don’t understand everything about Eastwood’s brand of libertarianism. His support of gun control, for instance, is a major departure from libertarianism. It’s also hard to take his 2012 Chrysler Super Bowl commercial as anything other than support for the Obama auto bailout, even if Eastwood claimed that’s not what he intended. Moreover, the actor/director has endorsed an array of big-government politicians in California.
Still, ‘Richard Jewell’ Is a Libertarian Film
I am going to give Eastwood a pass on all of that, however, because his job isn’t to be consistent. His job is to create compelling cinema, and he delivers that, film after film.
“Richard Jewell” is probably not his strongest work. It leaves little room for suspense and is a bit predictable, in part because we all know the story: Security guard Richard Jewell find a suspicious backpack at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which turns out to be a bomb that kills two people and injures more than 100. At first heralded as a hero, Jewell soon becomes the FBI’s primary suspect and the target of a media rampage.
It is exquisitely acted, however, with Eastwood’s minimalist directing style shining through. The characters Eastwood introduces are as familiar to the American psyche as they are unusual to meet onscreen: a hard-working and loving, if TV-addicted, single mom; a geeky, libertarian lawyer; an overweight, overzealous copper.
The cop is an interesting stage in the artistic trajectory of the director, whose iconic ’70s role was “Dirty Harry,” the out-of-bounds police officer pursuing rough justice in San Francisco, a city gone awry. My guess is that Eastwood feels more like the libertarian lawyer these days. Nonetheless, the cop he’s created with actor Paul Walter Hauser is highly sympathetic, if flawed.
Clint Eastwood’s Characters Are Recognizable
I can think of two reasons Eastwood continues to create novel but easily recognizable characters. First, he makes films from the point of view of ordinary Americans. Second, he makes libertarian films. Since libertarianism is a very American worldview, one reason blends into the other.
For a film to make a libertarian point, the director must introduce characters that would not figure into your standard “critique of American capitalism” Hollywood drama. Most of the films produced in this country today are ideological and amount to some sort of soft Marxism. It’s hard to imagine that in different hands, Jewell’s persona would morph into anything other than a villain or an unfortunate victim of circumstances, but in Eastwood’s reading, he is an individual in his own right.
The American film industry can make an anarchist — or wannabe anarchist — film such as “Bonnie and Clyde” or “V for Vendetta.” That’s admirable, because anarchist cinema is too important to be left to the Spaniards and Ukrainians. Or the Russians, for that matter.
Libertarianism is right next door to anarchy, but somehow not many artists are interested in making films representing that outlook. The pent-up demand for this type of entertainment has surfaced since the emergence of the Tea Party in the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term. Ten years later, there’s finally a movie about healthy, vocal mistrust of the state and the media, and the tension between respect for authority and individual autonomy.
Filmmakers Should Explore More Libertarian Themes
Nobody in the world can possibly make a film like that except for American artists, and out of all big-name directors in America, Eastwood is the only one who picks up this opportunity.
I am not arguing that American filmmakers should be producing libertarian-themed work because it’s a potential money-maker. I am not arguing they should fill this niche because it suits my political agenda — which, to be sure, it does, even if I’m not strictly speaking a libertarian.
In any event, I can point to movies made by true-blue lefties that inadvertently make conservative points. HBO’s “Chernobyl” is one obvious example, albeit that mini-series went awry because of the creators’ insistence on authenticity, which led them to rely on sources hostile to socialism. More generally, however, good art transcends artist intentions, and a good artist allows his art to lead him into places he wouldn’t dare visit alone.
American filmmakers should try to work with libertarian themes because these creators are in an ideal position to explore them, and taking that kind of risk would lead their craft in a new, interesting direction. We’ve all seen filmmakers’ cookie-cutter wokeness. Show us something new. Ars gratia artis.