Although I’ve always thought Clint Eastwood’s record as a director was extremely uneven, I was looking forward to Richard Jewell, in part because of the collaboration with Billy Ray (who wrote the superb scripts for Shattered Glass and Breach.) But this is pretty gross:
The government gets off relatively easy compared to the fourth estate, the worst of which is distilled into the vampiric newspaperwoman Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who nearly makes Jake Gyllenhaal’s monstrous antihero in Nightcrawler look tame. Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray have already come under fire for rehashing the trope of the female journalist who sleeps with her sources—a fundamental ethical breach wantonly attributed to a real-life person who is no longer around to defend herself in this case. But the film’s screeds against tabloid conjecture—which we don’t see Scruggs committing—make her an ill-fitting target, rendering its use of her as a punching bag for everything wrong with the press (including bad writing, glory-seeking, and empty grandstanding) feel gratuitous and cruel.
There seems to be no factual basis for attributing this behavior to the late Scruggs. Obviously, docudramas are going to depart from literal events for dramatic purposes, and I don’t have a problem with that if doing to remains true to the essential story. The latter elements seems pretty dubious to me, but it’s moot because there’s no way in hell having a reporter sleep with sources to get a scoop could be a good dramatic choice, seeing how it’s one of the most hackneyed sexist tropes in the Hollywood Cliche Kit. But then this has always been where I differ with many critics about his subpeak work: what seems to his admirers like admirable homages to classic Hollywood filmmaking often look suspiciously just like rote cliches to skeptics.