On the Agenda, by Tyler Smith

10 Nov

Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell will be released in December and many people are questioning the timing, not only of its release, but of its general making. The story – about an ordinary man railroaded by the press into becoming a national joke – doesn’t exactly portray the mainstream media in the best light. With President Trump, and Republicans in general, regularly condemning the media as biased and craven, some have criticized Eastwood’s decision to make a film that would appear to give credence to that claim. They accuse the conservative Eastwood of making and releasing this film with a political agenda. 

Personally, I have no doubt that Eastwood is releasing this film at this time for political reasons. I also have no problem with it. It’s not a new idea. When Michael Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, he clearly had a political agenda. When 2008 saw the release of both Frost/Nixon and W., I’m pretty sure the fact that it was an election year wasn’t just a coincidence. Art is made for all sorts of reasons, with possible political influence being one of the oldest. And indeed many of these movies, despite wearing their goals on their sleeve, still manage to be some of the most intriguing and enduring films ever made. 

So, with the question of a political agenda being ultimately neutral, the real issue, I think, comes down to whose agenda it is. I can’t imagine many of the same people that are critical of Eastwood objecting to the timing of All the President’s Men in 1976 (the year in which Nixon’s former VP and successor, Gerald Ford, was up for re-election). Similarly, nobody seemed to bat an eye when Adam McKay announced the production of 2018’s Vice, most likely because the agenda in question was a bit more in line with their own (though, thankfully, many dismissed the tediously-smug film once it was released). 

Clint Eastwood’s politics undoubtedly differ from the majority of film critics and commentators. And, given Sully and American Sniper, they have plenty of reason to believe that those politics will be incorporated into his latest film. However, as the film hasn’t been released yet, it still remains to be seen how incendiary his take will be. But some still take issue with the decision to make the movie in the first place, as though the current political climate means that the press should not be taken to task for past mistakes. 

But, biases aside, the story of Richard Jewell is still a tragic one, precisely because of how the mainstream media conducted itself. While Jewell was ultimately vindicated, the damage was done, and Eastwood seems to feel that his story shouldn’t be forgotten, especially given current circumstances, when Trump’s vilification of the press forces people – including me – to defend it with rose-colored vigor. However, with recent stories about ABC’s alleged burial of Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes, the media has shown itself to be an institution like any other, just as capable of blunders and manipulation as the government or any major corporation. 

I love movies like The Killing Fields, Good Night, and Good Luck, and the aforementioned All the President’s Men. These are films about the importance of journalism and its unique ability to speak truth to power. But it would be foolhardy to act as though journalism is an industry without blemish. This understanding has led to some amazing movies, as well, such as Ace in the Hole, Network, Absence of Malice, and Nightcrawler

The fact is, there is a lot we can learn from Richard Jewell’s story, just as there is much we can learn from the Watergate scandal, and the George W. Bush administration. The movies made about these topics may not be unbiased, but they are at their core an attempt to keep vital lessons of the past fresh in the memories of those of us in the present. And as we have learned from movies like Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – an agenda-driven film if ever there was one – art has the unique ability to transcend the era in which it is created, ultimately speaking to a truth that is deeper than any one time or place. 

Richard Jewell may be good or bad but, either way, it is an attempt to hold the mainstream media accountable, just as Steven Spielberg’s The Post was made to affirm its vital importance. Undoubtedly, both films were made as a response to the turbulent political times in which we live, but as the years go on and politicians rise and fall, these films will remain, unchanged and fading in and out of relevance, ready to be forgotten and rediscovered. And we will be grateful that filmmakers of all political persuasions and opinions were willing to be true to their own convictions and tell the stories they considered worth telling, regardless of how controversial they may have been at the time.

2 Responses to “On the Agenda, by Tyler Smith”

  1. saman November 11, 2019 at 1:46 am #

    Thank you for your fair, and honest article. Clint Eastwood is true legend of cinema and many are already hammering his new movie with questions like “do we need a Richard Jewell movie now?”, “What is the dirty purpose behind this one?” and stuff like that before seeing the movie. this is a tragic story and maybe the most relevant story of the year. maybe this story reminds and encourages us to be fair to each other in these wild times. this is from Clint Eastwood who has done True Crime, Letters from Iwo Jima and Changeling before. he always is with private citizens against the system.

  2. Paul Munger November 12, 2019 at 7:55 pm #

    Excellent! Really appreciate your balanced article on this and look forward to seeing what Eastwood presents us with this film.

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