“Richard Jewell” stars Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Wilde. Released on December 13, 2019, the film is about a security guard who is unfairly classified as a suspect despite him saving lives from an exploding bomb.
The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also directed films such as “Unforgiven”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “American Sniper”, and “The Mule”. It is based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Tragedy: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner. It is also based on the 2019 book The Suspect by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen. Mr. Eastwood is back in the awards game this year with another fact-based drama about an American hero whose heroic actions are called into question. This time, it’s an ordinary security guard. Eastwood is known for bringing these types of stories to life, so it should come as no surprise that he wanted to helm this one. For those who needed a reminder, I was able to follow Eastwood’s filmography after experiencing his 2014 mega-hit “American Sniper” (which I loved, by the way), and since then, I have grown to appreciate his talent as a filmmaker. This was one of the reasons why I went and saw this film, with the other being the fact that I was interested in the events that it’s based on. It has already been chosen as one of the top ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review and Kathy Bates has already been getting some recognition for her supporting role, especially from the Golden Globes. Based on what I saw, does it deserve more? More importantly, Does it do the real-life event justice?
The story chronicles the real-life events surrounding the title character (Hauser), a security guard who discovered a terrorist plot that resulted in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics. He was hailed as a hero by the people he evacuated, but the FBI identified him as one of the suspects responsible for planting that bomb. This lead the press to falsely accuse him of performing this despicable deed. With his life on the line, Jewell seeks the help of his lawyer Watson Bryant (Rockwell) to clear his name before he gets sent to jail as an innocent man. The film deals with defamation, in which the news media and journalists sent out false statements that unjustly harms someone’s reputation, and how it affects the person who is targeted. Like Eastwood’s other film “Sully”, “Richard Jewell” is a subtle dialogue-driven drama that relies on conversations to drive the story with an occasional intense scene or two, so if you’re not into that type of stuff, you might find this one to be either underwhelming or boring. Admittedly, it did have a couple of underwhelming scenes that didn’t exactly nail the emotional heights of its topic, but it’s still a well-crafted and respectable drama that honors Jewell’s heroic act as well as its frustrating topic. Clint Eastwood is the type of director who offers a sense of delicacy to his vision when it comes to the dramatic scenes. Sure, it’s not as hard-hitting or heart-pounding as the other fact-based dramas, but there’s something about his style that made me want to feel connected to those delicate dialogue scenes. They’re slow, but they’re also engaging and heartfelt. In short, he did a really good job at envisioning this type of story without losing focus on its objective. The main cast was great in their roles, especially Paul Walter Hauser as the title character. I think this is the first time I’ve seen this actor in a central role since he’s only known for being in supporting roles. From what I saw, he portrayed the character extremely well and his performance shows that he might be ready to take on more roles like this in the future. Sam Rockwell turned in another good performance as Watson Bryant and Kathy Bates was marvelous in her role as Barbara Jewell, Richard’s mother. Another thing I would like to mention is Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), a reporter who is responsible for writing the story about Jewell. Before I went and saw this film, I heard that it’s been criticized by The Atlanta-Journal Constitution for depicting a scene where Scruggs offers to trade sex with an FBI agent in return for private information. I don’t know the real story behind this situation, but what I do know is that this character is a jerk. If the film’s job is to make Scruggs the type of character who only cares about getting the story across rather than everybody else, it did its job well. I can understand why the newspaper company did not like the film’s portrayal of Scruggs, but they almost ruined Jewell’s life with their posts, so…
Overall, “Richard Jewell” is another meaningful and heartfelt drama that only Clint Eastwood can make. The performances from the cast, Eastwood’s direction, and its engaging dialogue sequences are enough to represent its themes and its ordinary hero in a delicate and honest light. It’s too bad that it didn’t get any awards for everything else, but with all of the big award-potential films out there, it makes sense as to why it got left out in the dust. If you’re a fan of Eastwood’s filmography, this film is worth checking out.