Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Kathy Bates, John Hamm, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez, Charles Green, Marc Farley
Written by: Billy Ray, (based on the article) Marie Brenner, (based on the book) Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen
Running Time: 131 mins
Release date: 31st January 2020
Clint Eastwood is 90 this year, and it is hard to believe that he is still producing film after film. Over the years, his output has been mixed. From the dubious with Jersey Boys to the exceptional in Gran Torino. His attention has been on the underdog, the men who do heroic actions yet are far from treated like heroes. Sully is an example and now comes Richard Jewell, a name you may not know, but his story is an important one. A man who went from hero to suspect mainly because the media said so. This is Eastwood’s best film in years, yet there has since been a question about one of the characters actions as portrayed in the movie.
Richard Jewell has always dreamed of being a law enforcement officer and has utter respect for the police. Yet this lonely man, who lives with his doting mother, never rises beyond that of security. While working at the Atlanta Olympics in Centennial Park, he discovers a suspicious package that is a bomb. His actions immediately turn him into a hero. However, because his profile fits the image of a lone bomber, Richard’s world is turned upside down when he becomes their chief suspect and has to face trial by media as they rip his world apart.
This is a very timely tale with the way the media can manipulate a story and how easily people believe what they read or see. Richard Jewell was a man doing a job, whose actions saved the lives of countless people. Yet the FBI has little or nothing to go on, they take an incident that happened in Jewell’s past as a possible trigger.
In Eastwood’s unfussy manner, he tells the story in a straight-forward style that is easy to follow and easy to sympathise with. Jewell, while being one of life’s loners, is a likeable and caring man who only wants to protect and serve his country. There is an innocence about him that makes it easy for him to be pinpointed. The story is about how the media can take hearsay and make people believe it, at the same time, drag a man down from being a hero being hated.
Where the problems lie is in the depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs, the woman who allegedly broke the story. In the film, she is shown to use her sexuality to get a story. Her colleagues have publically protested about this and said that she was a truly professional journalist. With all accounts based on real events, there is bound to be some fictionalisation to bring a level of excitement to the story that may not be there. However, with Scruggs no longer around to defend herself (she died in 2001) you can only take the story as you it is depicted. If you can ignore the actions here, this is still a fascinating story.
The film also boasts a strong cast doing some terrific work. As the title character, Paul Walter Hauser gives an honest, understated performance that will have you sympathising with. He is like a child, excited by the police and being accepted by law enforcers, to the point that he will do anything for them, even if it makes him look even more guilty. Sam Rockwell gives another top-notch performance as his lawyer, a man who is the complete opposite to his client, a man brimming with suspicion for the law, yet coolly dealing with each obstacle in a sharp line and biting banter.
Kathy Bates, nominated for an Oscar, steal the film and our hearts as Jewell’s beloved mother, a woman who cannot understand why everyone hates her son. She tugs at the heartstrings, particularly the speech at a press conference. It’s easy to see why she is a highly regarded actress.
Richard Jewell is a flawed film, and yet it’s a well-directed by a filmmaker who refuses to stop working and can still deliver. It’s a story that does deserve to be told. It does give us a warning not to believe everything we read. Every man is innocent until proven guilty.