Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” should be a movie everyone’s talking about right now. And indeed they are, but not for the right reasons. With a controversy surrounding it, the Warner Bros. film has had a disappointing launch on its opening night.
“Richard Jewell” made just $1.5 million on Friday night in over 2,000 theaters. Its weekend cume will come to under $4.5 million. Coupled with a lack of awards nominations– a mistake, I think — the film doesn’t have the brightest future. What s shame.
The true story of how Jewell’s life was ruined by local law enforcement, the FBI, and the media in Atlanta when he was falsely accused of bombing the 1996 Olympics is extremely well conveyed by Eastwood and a sterling cast. But the secondary plot– of a real life reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution sleeping with a source to break the story– has turned “Richard Jewell” into a marketing nightmare.
The AJC is conducting a war against the movie, denying that the late reporter, Kathy Scruggs, would have done such a thing. Everyone who knew Scruggs has spoken out, too, including her colleagues and her family, all in agreement that while she was unconventional, and wore short skirts (that part is the most amusing), Scruggs wouldn’t have crossed that line.
To make matters worse, the movie uses her name but not the real name of the FBI agent she supposedly slept with. So Jon Hamm’s character is basically fictional, while Olivia Wilde is representing a real person.
The debate about this plot point has come to taint what would have otherwise been a critical and possible financial hit. We’ve seen this before–a great movie can be killed in the marketing. Look at Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” which died because of the revelation Parker had been acquitted in a college rape trial. That was the end of that movie, which was on track for awards acclaim.
Wilde, who’s so good as “Scruggs,” has defended her role. The movie company has pointed out that the AJC nevertheless was culpable in ruining Jewell’s life. But either the AJC’s campaign against the movie, or a sub rosa Hollywood campaign against “Richard Jewell,” has certainly made the movie’s situation unfavorable.
It’s not great for Warner Bros. on a different score. They’ve been unable all year to make non branded adult films catch on. (“Joker” can’t be counted in there because it comes from DC Comics.) Their last chance is “Just Mercy,” with Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, which is also excellent and just landed Foxx a SAG Awards nomination. So far, there’s no controversy (fingers crossed). “Just Mercy” deserves an Oscar comeback after disappointing rounds with the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards.
In the meantime, go see “Richard Jewell.” As I said when I saw it, it’s a jewel of a movie and one of Eastwood’s best.
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