RICHARD JEWELL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Ariadna, Mike Pniewski, Ian Gomez.

Alex Collins and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell (2019)

During the Atlanta Olympics in July 1996 security guard Richard Jewell (played here by Paul Walter Hauser) became a hero when he discovered a suspicious package left under a bench in Centennial Park, which turned out to be a powerful bomb. Jewell alerted the police and helped to evacuate the area. Two people were killed and over 100 were injured when the remote-controlled bomb detonated, but if not for Jewell’s actions the damage and death toll could have been a lot higher.

Three days later though Jewell’s life was turned upside down and he became the target of a media witch-hunt when the FBI identified him as the chief suspect. Tough FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm, from Baby Driver, etc) used profiling techniques to point to Jewell. He fit the profile of a lone wolf home-grown terrorist – an overweight, socially awkward loner, obsessed with law enforcement, still living at home with his mother, and he had been fired from a previous job as a college campus security guard for using excessive force.

Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), an aggressive reporter for the Atlanta Constitutional Journal, published Jewell’s name and identified him as the chief suspect. Jewell was vilified by the media. He and his mother (Kathy Bates) were besieged by the media, followed by the FBI, and had their house ransacked in the search for evidence. In desperation Jewell turned to lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), whom he had met while working at another job. Bryant was the only employee at that firm that didn’t tease the simple and naïve and awkward Jewell. Bryant takes the FBI and the media to task for their persecution of an innocent man. After an investigation lasting 88 days, the FBI finally announced that Jewell was no longer a person of interest, but the damage had been done.

This powerful, angry film about a blatant miscarriage of justice has been scripted by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, etc), and is based on a couple of sources that detailed Jewell’s story – a Vanity Fair article entitled American Nightmare – The Ballad Of Richard Jewell and the nonfiction book The Suspect by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen. Ray has taken some liberties with the story for dramatic effect. Much of the controversy surrounding the film has centred on the treatment of Wilde’s character, depicting her as an aggressive journalist who is willing to trade sexual favours for information.

This powerful, cautionary tale and character study has been directed by Clint Eastwood, who even at the age of 89 is one of the most prolific, respected and economical filmmakers still working and making compelling and relevant movies. And he shows little sign of slowing down his work ethic. This true story of a complicated and misunderstood hero who is persecuted by the media seems to be the type of material that Eastwood is drawn to these days. You can sense his outrage. It is obvious where his sympathies lie as he hangs both the media and the FBI out to dry for their rush to judgement and that virtually destroyed the reputation and life of an innocent man.

An actor himself Eastwood knows how to draw good performances from his ensemble cast. Hauser (who played one of Margot Robbie’s white trash support team in I, Tonya) is superb and restrained as the hapless Jewell here, and he imbues his sad sack character with a hint of pathos. He gives the material its strong emotional core. In easily her best performance for several years Bates is excellent as Bobbi, Richard’s heartbroken mother who watches helplessly as her son is persecuted by the two most powerful forces in America today – the government and the media. Rockwell reins in some of his usual mannerisms and delivers a solid performance as the dogged crusading lawyer determined to prove Jewell’s innocence. Hamm is also good as the sleazy FBI agent Shaw (a fictional amalgam of several real-life FBI agents), who remains convinced of Jewell’s guilt despite a lack of forensic evidence linking Jewell to the bomb. Nina Ariadna (Tower Heist, etc) is superb in a small but important role as Nadya, Watson’s loyal secretary.

The film has been crisply shot by Yves Belanger, who also shot Eastwood’s previous film The Mule. The recreation of the explosion and the immediate devastation is one of the film’s strengths.

★★★☆

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