Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Richard Jewell is based on a true story.
In 1996, Richard Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 Olympics. While he dreamed of being a police officer and was known to let his authority go to his head, he was basically a good guy eager to do a good job.
While working at a concert in Olympic Park, Richard noticed a suspicious backpack and called in an alert. While initially believing it to be a false alarm, police quickly realized the threat was real as they found a bomb inside. As Richard and the officers cleared the area, the bomb went off and killed one bystander while injuring many more. Richard was hailed as a hero.
However, short on leads, the FBI soon turned their attention to Jewell himself as a suspect. And when journalist Kathy Scruggs received a tip that Jewell was a suspect, the rest of the media descended on Jewell. With his world quickly crumbling apart, Richard called on an old friend and lawyer Watson Bryant to help him. Together they begin a fight for life against the two most powerful forces in the US – the government and the media.
While I was basically familiar with the story of Richard Jewell, I found this film to be completely engrossing. It revealed new details that I was not familiar with and my 15-year old son who has become a bit of a history buff started asking all sorts of questions about the Olympic Park bombing. And as the story unfolds, it is amazing to see someone’s life being unjustly destroyed by the FBI and the media from the perspective of the victim. In the present era of Twitter lynch mobs, leaks by government officials, and trial by media, Richard Jewell is a timely cautionary tale for those in positions of power.
Paul Walter Hauser has a breakout performance as Richard Jewell. He manages to make Richard seem simple yet intelligent at the same time. He makes him seem egotistical yet sympathetic. He makes him believably annoying to his peers yet the guy you’d probably want to watch your back. It’s a complex role but Hauser ends up making Richard a guy you root for to win in the end. And when he delivers his big final speech, it’s a memorable indictment of his persecutors. Hauser will justifiably be noted during awards season for this performance.
Sam Rockwell is equally memorable as Watson Bryant, Jewell’s lawyer. Bryant is a hothead, a loudmouth, profane, and anti-government. Yet he’s also the kind of guy you want fighting for you when the world comes after you. If half of what is portrayed in the movie is accurate, Jewell was extremely lucky to have had Bryant on his side. Rockwell’s performance ends up being one of the best “good guy lawyer” roles seen on the big screen.
Also notable are Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, and Nina Arianda as Nadya, Bryant’s assistant. Bates is a victim in this story as well. As her son’s reputation is slowly destroyed by the media and her house is ransacked by the FBI, her spirit becomes utterly broken. Bates does a great job of portraying that grief. Arianda is also noteworthy as Nadya, the character who pushes Bryant to take the case.
I believe a great film has you thinking about it days after viewing. Richard Jewell is one of those films. The next time the media goes after someone, it will definitely be at the forefront of my mind. It certainly shows why our country has a policy of “innocent until proven guilty”.
What Didn’t Work:
I can’t speak to the accuracy of Richard Jewell and I’m sure it will be a big topic of discussion when it is released. But there are some aspects of it that I have to question. Olivia Wilde’s role as Kathy Scruggs seems quite exaggerated. From the moment she appears onscreen, she immediately comes across as unlikeable and the villain of the story. She’s profane, unethical, and a snob. It’s clear we’re not supposed to like her, but it seems over the top. The same goes for Jon Hamm as Tom Shaw. His performance as the overzealous FBI agent is good, but the film seems to go to great lengths to make him the other villain. But for a movie about the media not getting their facts straight, it’s imperative that they get their portrayals of real-life people accurate in this movie and I’m not 100% sure if they did that.
I also like it when movies about real-life people show footage of their subjects at the end. Richard Jewell did not do that. It just goes straight to the credits. It’s a nitpick, but something I would have liked to have seen to add to the authenticity of the film.
The Bottom Line:
If you like historical dramas or stories about unsung heroes, then Richard Jewell is worth checking out. I also feel this is Clint Eastwood’s best movie in quite some time. At the very least it’s a valuable cautionary tale for any aspiring journalist or law enforcement agent.
Richard Jewell opens Friday, December 13!