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‘Dark Waters’ and ‘Richard Jewell’ reveal the best and worst of journalism (Blu-ray movie reviews)

Written By | Mar 26, 2020
Paul Walter Hauser stars in "Richard Jewell," and Mark Ruffalo stars as attorney Robert Bilott in "Dark Waters," now available in the Blu-ray format.

Paul Walter Hauser stars in “Richard Jewell,” and Mark Ruffalo stars as attorney Robert Bilott in “Dark Waters,” now available in the Blu-ray format.

Here’s a look at a pair of films, Dark Waters and Richard Jewell, now available in the Blu-ray format offering radically different perspectives on news organizations and their failure in serving their audiences.

Dark Waters (Universal Studio. Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 127 minutes, $34.98)

A cinematic adaptation of a real-life tale of corporate greed at its most despicable levels gave activist actor Mark Ruffalo a chance to explore a company’s intentional poisoning of humans and our ecosystem.

Director Todd Haynes effort adapts New York Times Magazine expose about Cincinnati corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott (Mr. Ruffalo) switching sides in his fight against DuPont in the early 2000s. Bilott’s change of heart comes after finding out the company was repeatedly dumping toxic waste in streams in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

This David-versus-Goliath struggle takes viewers on an odyssey of head-shaking discovery and conspiracy tied to multiple companies hiding the truth about the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used to manufacture Teflon.

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The legal thriller makes it easy to cheer the good guy thanks to Mr. Ruffalo’s focused performance and help from Tim Robbins as Tom Terp, the head of his law firm and a sympathetic boss. Anne Hathaway as his wife Sarah, and Bill Camp as Wilbur Tennant, the farmer brave enough to first reach out to Mr. Bilott.

“Dark Waters” delivers a cautionary reminder that better living through chemistry can backfire quickly and catastrophically when tied to the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

The high definition format spotlights cinematographer Edward Lachmann’s use of sickly yellow and hazy blue, subdued color choices in many scenes that reinforce the sobering story.

Best extras:

Viewers get a trio of promotional featurettes (13 minutes in total). What stands out are interviews with the real people involved in the case. These include Mr. and Mrs. Bilott, Bucky Bailey (a victim of Teflon poisoning) and class-action plaintiffs Darlene and Joseph Kiger.

I could have used either an optional commentary track from Mr. Ruffalo or aa full-length documentary on the subject such as “The Devil We Know,” currently available on Netflix.

Richard Jewell (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 131 minutes, $45.99)

In an age where the mainstream media mob can crush the innocent in the pursuit of website page views, it’s worth remembering the saga of a mild-mannered security guard doing his job. The media assault on Richard Jewell is now a movie available in the high definition format.

Although one cannot call the late Richard Jewell a humanitarian, he never deserved the unwarranted railroading by the vaulted news media. Much less the FBI buffoons desperate to find a suspect of Atlanta’s Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The explosion killed a mother and injured more than 100 individuals.

Director Clint Eastwood methodically lays out the case for the innocence of the man who actually discovered a backpack full of pipe bombs, as viewers watch him turn from hero to terrorist.

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The effort is led by Paul Walter Hauser in the starring role. Riveting performances from Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s overwhelmed but feisty attorney Watson Bryant is excellent. There is also Kathy Bates as Jewell’s shell-shocked mother Bobi and Jon Hamm as an amalgam of clueless FBI agents.

However, some, such as critics at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the filmmaking legend and screenwriter Billy Ray went overboard by miscategorizing the paper’s reporter Kathy Scruggs. The movie presents the reporter as looking for fame and even willing to trade sex for FBI information.

That disputed characterization tarnished an overall, excellent, reality-based legal drama for some critics. However, though there is no dispute that Scruggs and reporter Ron Martz opened the floodgates to Jewell’s public persecution.

The tempered irony here is that Mr. Eastwood stands accused of character assassination by a news organization that ultimately did the same to a poor guy just trying to help.

Best extras:

A production overview gets crammed into a 7-minute featurette covering actors, cinematography, production design, and costumingMr. Eastwood comments often, calling the Jewell incident “the great America screw-over.”

The crew talks about creating the most realistic portrayal of the locations and events as possible.

Next, viewers get 6-minutes’ worth of interviews with some of the primary sources of the film including Mrs. Jewell, Mr. Bryant, and his secretary and wife Nadya played by Nina Arianda, a favorite actress of this reviewer (Goliath). 

• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.

Joseph Szadkowski

A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in communications, Joseph Szadkowski has written about popular culture for The Washington Times for the past 25 years. He covers video games, comic books, new media and technology.