Even when he’s still churning out movies when he’s currently pushing 90, Clint Eastwood sure loves to direct dramas about American heroes over the years. Depending on how you feel about the portrayal of Chris Kyle (American Sniper) or Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Sully), it shows that he’s able to give these people a chance into those who’ve saved countless lives in the past. His latest feature Richard Jewell paints another example of American patriotism and how heroes can be treated poorly later on.
What’s the Story: This is the true story of security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who found a backpack full of explosives under a bench during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia on July 27. The incident itself caused two deaths and over a hundred injured, but it instantly hailed Jewell as a hero in the first few days. Though as the aftermath and the investigation of what happened continues, the FBI finds that he was the one that planted the background to get the attention he wanted.
It’s always fascinating to watch certain events happen on the screen and be told dramatically. The Centennial Olympic Park bombing was something I remember reading about a while ago but forgot the person who discovered it. Surprisingly enough, I was born three weeks before it happened. I’ve been lukewarm with Eastwood’s previous movies, especially the lackluster that was The 15:17 to Paris two years ago, and at the time of writing this review, I still haven’t checked out The Mule. The trailer had me convinced that this could be the one to pay attention to during this past awards season. Though I can’t say this is one of the best movies to come out last year, Richard Jewell is the veteran director’s best work since 2008’s Gran Torino.
First off, you can see the director was passionate about taking on this story. Talk about a fascinating story for those who have heard nothing about what happened two decades ago, and screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), who adapted the Vanity Fair article called “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner, really shows how important this situation is not only to the country but to the man himself. This is also one of those rare times where I’ve noticed the film didn’t have a grey, depressing look to them, as there was actual color in filming. Once we were getting to when Richard finds the bomb, the tension was at a high, trying not to feel you’re trying to keep everybody out of the perimeter before it went off.
Not only that, but this has some of the best performances given in any of his films that didn’t feel like it was bland or a waste of time for the actors involved. Paul Walter Hauser is somebody I’ve been rooting for to be in a lead role since his breakout performance in 2017’s I, Tonya. As the titular role, there’s nothing to say but amazing. Throughout the film, my mind didn’t go thinking that’s an actor, since his role was bought very quickly just looking at this man who’s not only a respected man doing his job, but is seen as a normal person who respects law authority and takes his job seriously. I remembered hearing Jonah Hill would play Jewell before it involved Eastwood, but there is no one better to play this man than they offered us. Trust me when I say he’s going to be the next John C. Reilly.
The praise he’s getting is needed, but I can’t forget to talk about Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates. Rockwell plays Watson Bryant, Richard’s lawyer that he has known for ten years prior, and will put his life on the line in helping him out. Both he and Walter Hauser had a great dynamic with each other through and through. Then you have Bates as his mother Barbara “Bobi ” Jewell, who couldn’t believe the attention his son is attracting, but has this sense of being worried about what’s going on during this investigation and truly knows he did nothing wrong. She was excellent. And there’s a moment near the end where I can now see why she got that Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Since this was a true story, you had to imagine what it would be like if you’re in Richard’s shoes. I totally see the FBI as people you do not want to trust. Jon Hamm plays Agent Tom Shaw, an amalgamation of characters, and he’s one that you’re not sure of believing Richard is guilty. Corporation with them to make sure everything is good is one thing, but you feel like Watson telling Richard to stop talking when explaining the reasonings of going through his home. If they tricked me into signing a confession or making a “safety video,” I’d be pissed.
Going into the problems I had while watching this, there were some mild pacing issues around the second act. That’s not to say it was becoming boring since this is one of the few Eastwood movies that kept me engaged throughout. Other than that, Olivia Wilde’s performance as real-life Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs was fine, but I felt like they were pushing her portrayal to be over-the-top, and it wasn’t realistic for me. The film caused controversy when it came out for how Scruggs was portrayed in trading sex for information needed to put in the paper. Out of the things that might be wrong in this biopic, this was the one thing that can bother to most, and since she died in 2004 due to an overdose, her chances of telling what’s up are very unlikely.
Talking about how this is a relevant movie to come out in this day and age, it’s important to show that we should trust not every aspect of the media. In a society where it’s full of fake news, journalists will take matters in their own hands and falsely making stories up to make any circumstance harder for everyone to ruin their lives. This story took place in 1996, where social media wasn’t a thing yet in the world and news like this spreads quickly to ever believe. Even though I wasn’t there when the bombing happened and how Walter Hauser portrayed the late hero, there was no way he would’ve hurt thousands of people when he’s seen as a guy who wants to protect and serve. We’re able to think every piece of information true. Not every story gets believed in from time to time, but I always feel like hard evidence is good enough for that and we have to stop and above all think. If it weren’t for Richard, people could’ve died, and I will consider him a hero in my book.
Honestly, if you’ve been hit-or-miss with Eastwood’s filmography, Richard Jewell is better than most out there. It’s been a long while since I’ve enjoyed a movie from him with a lot of effort put into it. If Walter Hauser got more attention for this previous award season, I believe he would be in talks for a Best Actor nomination. We shall see if he has another one in him to make another movie about a hero and discover the truth in all things.