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Richard Jewell Review

December 13, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Richard Jewell photo still, Paul Walter Hauser Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Richard Jewell Review  

Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Written By: Billy Ray
Runtime: 129 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images

Paul Walter Hauser – Richard Jewell
Kathy Bates – Bobi Jewell
Sam Rockwell – Watson Bryant
Olivia Wilde – Kathy Scruggs
Jon Hamm – Sam Shaw
Nina Arianda – Nadya Light
Charles Green – Dr. W. Ray Cleere
Ian Gomez – Dan Bennet
David Shae – Ron Martz

Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood might be nearing 90 years of age, but he hasn’t slowed down at all in terms of his directing career. His latest film is Richard Jewell, a biographical drama surrounding the man who discovered the bomb at Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. The film serves as a cautionary tale for a premature rush to judgment and how media stories fueled by speculation and little in the way of facts can tear a family’s life apart.

Walter Hauser portrays the eponymous Richard Jewell, starting with his adult years as a law office supply clerk, where he meets the dogged career lawyer, Watson Bryant (Rockwell), sharing his dreams of an eventual career in law enforcement. Hauser’s time as a campus police officer ends badly when he’s overstepping his bounds and takes his work far too seriously. Eventually, in 1996, Jewell finds himself living in an apartment with his kindly, blue-collar mother Bobi (Bates) and getting to work as a security guard at Centennial Park during the Olympic Games.

One night during a concert, Richard discovers a suspicious backpack and is adamant about notifying the present authorities. His suspicions proved correct as the backpack contained a pipe bomb. While the terrorist disaster was not averted, Jewell’s acting on the matter managed to save many lives. In the initial aftermath, the media vaunts Jewell as a hero, but that soon changes. After the FBI starts its investigation, they immediately start looking into Jewell, who simply committed the crime of “looking” guilty. He fits a profile for what the FBI sees as a hero bomber who seeks attention.

Enter Atlanta Journal-Constitution crime reporter Kathy Scruggs (Wilde), who believes she’s found her big break with the story. She manages to “persuade” FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) into revealing Jewell is a subject of the FBI’s investigation, which she prints soon after. From there, the public situation snowballs out of control. After the fervor wears off, Jewell finally sees himself becoming demonized as a potential criminal and terrorist. After the FBI uses subterfuge to conduct Jewell’s interrogation, he finally gets wise to the fact that the FBI is not out to be his friend and calls Watson Bryan to assist with his legal defense. After Bryant conducts his own investigation work, he realizes Jewell is innocent and goes to bat for him as the FBI investigation is tearing apart the life of both Jewell and his mother.

The acting talents of Kathy Bates and Sam Rockwell are on fine display in this film. Bates portrays a very honest, believable version of Bobi Jewell. You see every stage of the devastation of a mother seeing her son going from branded as a hero to a villain in the media. Sam Rockwell’s charisma is abundant here. His character borderlines on scene-chewing as Watson Bryant, but he manages to just keep it behind that barrier.

Walter Hauser does very well here in the lead role as the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Richard Jewell. He showcases Jewell’s rather simple demeanor that’s off-putting to some. However, there’s a great scene where Walter Hauser reveals he’s well aware of how people see and talk about him, he’s simply unable to act any other way. It was a fascinating look at people’s innate nature as human beings.

In terms of direction and presentation, Eastwood has a steady hand here, unlike his 2016 effort, Sully, which was underdeveloped, disjointed, and lacked an actual, cohesive ending. Richard Jewell is a much more fulfilling and complete cinematic experience. It’s a fairly straightforward narrative, but it’s a little on the padded side.

Where the film errs is the subplot involving showcasing Kathy Scruggs as the sleazy reporter who essentially ruins Jewell’s life with her story. While it is true that the FBI did prematurely leak the details of the investigation into Richard Jewell, it’s unproven how or why it happened. The film suggests Scruggs’ relationship and seductive questioning of Tom Shaw provoked the leaking of Jewell’s name. It’s arguable that the media crucified Jewell as a criminal, when he was never charged or arrested, based on the media’s voracity and speculation about his alleged actions. Additionally, the way the FBI attempted to interrogate Jewell under false pretenses and an elaborate ruse has been well documented and even admitted, and there’s no valid excuse for that. The FBI and the investigating agents serve as a more organic choice for the story’s villains.

Olivia Wilde certainly goes all in with her performance playing the role of a “slimy” reporter, Kathy Scruggs, who passed away in 2001. It’s entertaining to watch Wilde in this type of role. She makes the character natural in her attitude of being a reporter willing to do anything to get the story, even if she’s mainly there to give the audience someone to seethe at. However, the payoff to the character is underwhelming and not believable. Scruggs’ collaborator for the story at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ron Martz (portrayed here by David Shae), stood by the facts of their story at least until 2013. Libel by the publication against Richard Jewell was not legally proven in a 15-year court case either.

Chalk it up to artistic license or now, but it’s reminiscent of how Eastwood completely fabricated a witch hunt against pilot Chesley Sullenberger by the National Safety Transportation Board that never existed and never happened in the movie Sully. It was executed so lazily because of the expectation that movies need a hero and a villain. Interestingly enough, therein lies a problem that can be connected to the reality for Richard Jewell. People want a hero to extol or a villain to loathe, when the reality is likely far more complex.

The conflict shown in Richard Jewell is not just a problem exhibited by the media but people in general. The media is not run by computer programs. It is run by human beings who wanted to believe Jewell was guilty and had something to do with the bombing. The human beings in the media are just as flawed and capable of mistakes as everyone else. Those in the media who leaned harder into speculation over the Richard Jewell case likely wanted to believe Jewell was guilty as well just because he looked guilty to certain FBI agents.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Richard Jewell is a strongly acted and solidly directed film by Clint Eastwood. All the lead performances are exceptional. However, the movie suffers from excess padding and should have focused less on the likely fictionalized Kathy Scruggs elements. Regardless, the film serves as a strong cautionary tale about premature rushes to judgment and how mere speculation and allegations can bring down a person's life. Overall, it's a far superior depiction than 2016's Sully.