“Richard Jewell” is directed by Clint Eastwood. The cast is headlined by Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Wilde. It’s based on the real life bombing at the ‘96 Olympics in Atlanta. Where security guard Richard Jewell found the bomb, saved hundreds of lives and became a national hero, for a very short time before he became the prime suspect of the FBI and virtually labeled a homeland terrorist by the media. This was a captivating story that gripped the country and it’s suited for a highly emotional biopic. In the hands of Eastwood, it has as many positives as it has drawbacks and in my opinion was saved 100% by the cast performances. Despite still resulting in a letdown considering the potential it had. The things it did well were important to making a great film, but they were consistently undercut by Eastwood’s personal agenda, and at times lazy biographical writing.
First though, let’s get into where this movie excelled, to explain where its flaws made large impressions. Hauser was the best part of this movie and his portrayal of Jewell was precise, endearing, and most importantly, authentic to the persona. Jewell was a man that lived and breathed law enforcement, yet at the same time, he was a bit odd and eccentric which I felt Hauser captured perfectly. From being a man that tried too hard at his job at times, to becoming a short-lived hero, then a national villain, and throughout the stress of this case built against him, Hauser was a flawless as Jewell. There were times he seemed clueless to the situations he was faced with. Then there were others were cracks in his calm demeanor showed themselves and I really connected with Jewell through Hauser’s performance.
There were many great scenes with both Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates capturing a natural chemistry with Hauser that thrived with emotional energy. Bates was fantastic as Jewell’s mother and she brought dramatic intensity that was able to capture how this event destroyed her life as well. Rockwell was phenomenal as always, and as Jewell’s lawyer I enjoyed seeing their friendship grow. He was comical, heartfelt, sentimental at times, and he felt like the normal guy he was supposed to be. It was a role that could have easily just blended in, but with Rockwell’s delivery and his chemistry with Hauser, it was a performance that could earn some supporting actor nominations.
The story was where the issues were for me despite enjoying large sections of it. The first-act was a bit slow as it reinforces the eagerness of Jewell in his profession. While also conveying how he could potentially be thought of as the mastermind behind the bombing to outside perception. Throughout there were nicely structured elements to it, like the relationship between Jewell and his mother, as well as with his lawyer. These were things I enjoyed, but they weren’t the most important parts in this story of the attempted railroad of Jewell. Those important, more fascinating story dynamics were the ones that felt blatantly made up and exaggerated by Eastwood and writer Billy Ray.
This one would have greatly benefited from a more matter-of-fact, unbiased approach. Olivia Wilde’s character being depicted as trading sex for information from the FBI was unproven. The blatant disregard for ethics and evidence collection from within the FBI headed by Jon Hamm’s Agent Shaw felt exaggerated. With a singular focus on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the whole of the media showing Eastwood’s agenda of expressing his views on the FBI and the media through Jewell’s story. And with that bias behind the primary layers of the story, it distracts from Jewell’s fight for justice. It could have been much better. It was a missed opportunity to tell an incredible story but still is entertaining in sections. It does feel very “Eastwood” for the better or worse depending on your viewpoint. But the performances are incredible and make this one worth a shot if you’re in the mood for some good old fashion Eastwood style patriotism.