Review- Richard Jewell
“You ready to start fightin’ back?”
There are two things Clint Eastwood hates in this world; journalists and the government. This is made abundantly clear by a poster that is seen in an office, with the caption: “I fear the government more than I fear terrorism.”
The film is about the real-life story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a security guard who found a pipe bomb in Centennial Park, during the 1996 Olympic games. Jewell alerts the authorities and police, while always helping to clear the area, saving many lives in the process. He would go on to be hailed as a hero by the media, however, the FBI was secretly investigating Jewell as a prime suspect. Three days later, this leaked to the papers and Jewell made headlines once again, despite never being charged with the crime. To clear his name Jewell enlists the help of solicitor and friend Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell).
Still directing at nearly 90 years of age, Clint Eastwood still knows how to make the simple everyday images of America look beautiful, whether it be simple government buildings or plain old motorways. At a glance, Eastwood’s directing may seem traditional, but the vast spaces of America are well illustrated in his frames. Eastwood juxtaposes real-life footage of news interviews with that shot for the film, not just to recreate scenes, but to also convey the emotions of the characters. Notably, when Bryant is walking to a payphone, and investigating the case against Jewell, his walking is contrasted with footage of a long-distance runner breaking his own world record. Eastwood is a master of combining genres, able to squeeze in elements of comedy to balance out the drama, which never feels forced.
While it is a harsh criticism of our media-dominated society, the film provides an honest look at Richard Jewell. Jewell is humble and well-meaning; him getting fired at the beginning of the film, from his job as a security guard. This leads to his former employer questioning his actions in the bombing. Jewell is shown to be naive, and his love for authority gets him into more trouble.
The FBI exploits his naivete to their advantage, much to the annoyance of Watson Bryant. An example of this is when Jewell is asked to recreate the phone call that was made on the day of the bombing. To Bryant’s horror, he realises that the FBI is willing to distort his voice just to implicate him in the crime. Jewell has always looked up to authority and traditional American values, but he must forget everything that he has admired and stand up to the FBI (or authority as a whole) in order to clear his name.
The real-life story complements the performances. Paul Walter Hauser has a breakout performance as the titular character. Hauser is so convincing in the role, that when real-life footage of Jewell is played, it is almost difficult to tell the two apart. He contrasts well with Sam Rockwell’s character, who is frustrated by Jewell’s kind and submissive nature. Hauser’s performance makes the viewer sympathetic to Jewell, so when he does finally stand up to the FBI, it is very satisfying. Kathy Bates also gives a career-best as Jewell’s loving and innocent mother who is tormented by the media, and at times, humiliated by the FBI.
However, the two main issues with the film come with Jon Hamm and Oliva Wilde. Hamm is fine but is not given much to do, whereas Wilde is a different story. Wilde plays real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs, who posted the original article about Jewell. In real life, it is not known how she got the information that the FBI was investigating Jewell, however, the film flat out accuses her of sleeping with an FBI agent for the information, and at first, is shown only to care for an “interesting story.”
Scrugg’s friends described her as a charismatic person who cursed, drank and even dated police officers, and while Wilde attempts to recreate that personality, her methods of finding stories make her almost cartoonishly evil.
Clint Eastwood is likely criticising journalism as a whole, more than the real person, as Scruggs is clearly an old fashioned stereotype of a journalist. While she is humanised in the second half, it’s too late as her character is far too heavy-handed in the first half. Whereas everyone feels human and ordinary, she sticks out like a sore thumb, as she feels more like a metaphor rather than a character.
At times, the film becomes more about Eastwood’s obsession with the government (highlighted by the quote on the poster), with the film being let down by Wilde’s performance. However, the film’s overall message about facts being twisted by the media is still relevant today. It remains a touching tribute to Richard Jewell, an ordinary man whose life was ruined.
Some of Eastwood’s recent films have missed the mark, The 15:17 to Paris is considered to be his worst ever, while The Mule is arguably Eastwood’s most personal film, it still feels frustratingly incomplete. Richard Jewell however, feels like a complete story, that is supported by stand out performances, thought-provoking themes, and a sensitive direction.