Friday Film Review--"Richard Jewell"
Clint Eastwood’s most recent directorial effort looked back to the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics—and an ordinary guy at the center of the incident. Rick Brough has this week’s Friday Film Review.
Clint Eastwood’s film “Richard Jewell” didn’t get a lot of attention at Oscar time. That’s kind of a shame, because the film tells several different stories.
It’s about terrorism, and law enforcement responding to it with some pretty criminal behavior of their own. It shows us that somebody’s outward appearance and demeanor don’t tell the whole story. And it’s about how we, the public, love to discover heroes, or villains—and a sensationalized media will eagerly serve them up—sometimes as the same guy!
When we first meet Richard Jewell, he’s a likable butterball who’s had a few short-lived jobs as police officer or guard. His overzealous style has prompted either annoyance or disdain from folks who just see an overweight Barney Fife. What you can miss is his sharp eye, and a protectiveness that is sincere, even if misguided a lot of times.
This comes to a head on July 27th at the 1996 Summer Games. In the middle of a happy-go-lucky crowd dancing the Macarena at Atlanta’s Centennial Park, Jewell, working security, sounds the alarm about a suspicious package under a bench. The bomb goes off, killing one and injuring scores of others. But Jewell and others get a head start on dispersing the crowd, thus saving many lives.
Jewell becomes an overnight hero, with interviews and book deals thrown his way.
But the lead FBI agent, played by Jon Hamm, is embarrassed and itching to nail a suspect. When Jewell is profiled as a “false hero” personality type, Hamm leaks the info to a news reporter, (played by Olivia Wilde) who is hungry for a scoop and is willing to more-than-flirt to get it.
Much of the movie is devoted to Jewell’s ordeal—where, on the negative side, Jewell can be his own worst enemy. Still idolizing law enforcement, he can’t fathom that the cabal of FBI agents are not on his side and they lure him into some outrageous self-incrimination traps.
On the plus side, the only attorney he knows, a real-estate lawyer Watson Bryant (played by Sam Rockwell) turns out to be a real bulldog in dealing with the feds.
In the title role, character actor and comic Paul Walter Hauser gives a layered, remarkable and sadly-overlooked performance. (Maybe his best-known role before this was as one of Tonya Harding’s confederates in “Tonya.” No wonder they fingered him as the perp!) In the end, aided by Eastwood’s brisk recreation of the Nineties, the film shows us that Jewell’s journey was about casting off his illusions, but gaining his self-respect.
The film has been dogged by controversy. The real reporter in the story, Kathy Scruggs, is dead now, like Jewell. And her advocates say she’s been maligned, like Jewell was.
And there’s a temptation to reduce the movie to our current, polarized politics. If you don’t like Fake News, or Deplorables or MAGA hats, you have to feel one way or the other about the film.
But on its own peculiar Olympic scorecard, I would give “Richard Jewell” four stars out of five. For the Friday Film Review, I’m Rick Brough.