It’s a new year and as we all know at this stage every year brings with it a Clint Eastwood film. This time around Eastwood tells the tale of a man who in the 1990s became a hero and a pariah in less than a week. This is the film of Richard Jewell, aptly titled Richard Jewell.
Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates with Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde Richard Jewell is based on the events of a bombing that took place during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Who is Richard Jewell?
To understand this event you must come to understand Richard Jewell (played here with gusto by Paul Walter Hauser). Richard is a hardworking individual with a strong (almost fanatical) sense of justice. Throughout his entire life he has wanted nothing more than to serve the people of America, as well as make his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates) proud.
During the Olympics, he is an acting security guard and one night while on duty he spots a suspicious package. He badgers the more senior members of the team until finally they take a look and to everyone’s horror there is an actual pipe bomb. Richard and the officers do their best and evacuate as many people as possible. There are casualties and injuries but countless lives are saved all because of Richard.
Within 24 hours everyone knows his name and Richard seems genuinely surprised. This sadly all turns quickly as the focus turns from his heroic deed to finger-pointing because no one knows who planted this bomb and the eyes of the world are on America. So they zero in on the only idea they seem to have Richard Jewell fits the criteria of a bomber. He lives with his mother, is something of a gun nut, and has taken the law into his own hands on a number of occasions.
And so Richard finds himself under constant media scrutiny, as well as being investigated by the FBI so he calls in Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) an old acquaintance to help him fight back.
A story of a simple but just man
Richard Jewell is a simple film about a simple man and because of that, it is sadly quite predictable. I didn’t know this story but I knew the beats that Eastwood was trying to hit and he hits them as well as a director of his calibre does, it’s just a shame that the narrative itself is quite simplistic.
I will say though Eastwood is an effective director and this is an efficient film. Eastwood doesn’t linger or waste time while telling his story. Even though the film is 129 minutes long the plot moves at a decent pace and I never found myself bored.
An Olympic cast
What elevates the simple and predictable premise is Richard Jewell’s cast. Paul Walter Hauser is award-worthy in the titular role in my opinion. You can’t help empathise with Richard and his you feel his plight. Hauser becomes this character and there is a quiet determination about him that I admired. Hauser has two particular scenes that brought me to tears. One of them reminded me of Tom Hanks’ performance in the final scene of Captain Philips and it floored me when it happened. You will know it when you see it.
Surrounding Hauser is a stellar cast. You have Sam Rockwell as his attorney, Jom Hamm as the lead FBI agent investigating Richard, Kathy Bates as Bobi Richard’s mother who stands by him through this nightmare, and last but worryingly not forgotten Oliva Wilde as journalist Kathy Skruggs who broke the scoop on the FBI’s investigation into Richard Jewell.
The danger of the power of media
There is a not so subtle theme of the misuse of the media in Richard Jewell and it is personified in the shape of Kathy Skruggs. She is the journalist that Trump always goes on about. The monster under your bed that hunts for the stories regardless of the bodies she leaves in her wake and this, in my opinion, is utilised quite poorly in the film.
The reason being is Kathy Skruggs if you delve a little deeper wasn’t the lecherous foul-mouthed she is portrayed as in the film. This actually is a major controversy in the film and perpetuates a trope that female journalists only get by in the career by using their bodies. Olivia Wilde’s performance is fine and if the character had been handled better I believe Wilde would have been even better. As it goes Wilde does her very best with what she is given.
Ultimately Richard Jewell is a good film elevated by its great cast and a seasoned director. It falls into Oscar bait tropes and one major controversy that I couldn’t get past but ultimately I enjoyed myself and when it releases into Irish cinemas you should check it out especially if you’re a fan of Clint Eastwood.
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