There’s no slowing down for Clint Eastwood, who at 89 years old is still going as strong as ever with his strive for excellence within the cinematic arts. As only the great director can he has now turned his attention to the heartbreaking story of an innocent man who was framed for a crime he didn’t commit in Richard Jewell and crafts a piece of cinema that wraps his audience in heavy emotions and a desperate search for the truth.
“There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have thirty minutes.” The world is first introduced to Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) as the security guard who reports finding the device at the 1996 Atlanta bombing—his report making him a hero whose swift actions save countless lives. But within days, the law enforcement wannabe becomes the FBI’s number one suspect, vilified by press and public alike, his life ripped apart. Reaching out to independent, anti-establishment attorney Watson Bryant, Jewell staunchly professes his innocence. But Bryant finds he is out of his depth as he fights the combined powers of the FBI, GBI and APD to clear his client’s name while keeping Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him.
Clint Eastwood has been behind the camera now for more than five decades, and his skills as a director ceases to diminish. And now as only Eastwood can he turns his attention to the life of Richard Jewell, a security guard who was hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing before being quickly vilified as the villain of the event. It’s a story that carries plenty of heavy-hitting drama and its ripe for Eastwood’s directorial eye and his focus on examining American values and society. With a documentary-like focus, along with his simple and to-the-point filmmaking style, Eastwood takes audiences back to 1996 and a brazen media circus that quickly envelops into flames and is ready to destroy an innocent man’s life. Richard Jewell is an important film that explores themes of duty, justice and the media and even though it’s a portrait of the past it’s entirely contemporary in its significance.
Standing front and centre as our protagonist is rising star Paul Walter Hauser and he gives an utterly magnificent portrayal as Richard Jewell. Richard can essentially be described as a simpleton. A slightly eager to please every man who has fantasist like ambitions of working in law enforcement and whose over-zealous enthusiasm for flaunting an authority he does not possess rubs people the wrong way. After initially being labelled a hero he soon finds himself in the crosshairs of a rabid media circus, undergoing a ‘trial by media’ and harassment by overzealous law enforcement. Hauser’s performance makes this film all the more moving as Jewell because he can’t see the facts and isn’t willing to accept that he’s a suspect. It’s painful to see him trying to ‘help out’ the FBI agents who are trying to convict him as he simply doesn’t understand the severity of the situation that he’s been placed in. Hauser’s performance is one that pulls at your soul and when he does eventually pull himself together and starts to fight for his innocence you’re just hoping that he finds a way to pull through and beat a system of seemingly insurmountable odds.
While Hauser is the central character of Richard Jewell, the heart of the film comes from the presence of Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother Bobi Lee, and her’s is an especially heart-wrenching performance. Bates’ Bobi Lee is the good neighbour, a perfect picture of wholesome everyday American values who looks after her son and who has raised him with an adherence to a Norman Rockwell type of patriotism and responsibility. Celebrating her son’s heroic turn, she basks in the delight of the good he’s done….until it all turns sour and it’s then that she just can’t deal with it all. With his ‘trial by media’, Richard’s life is torn apart and in turn so is Bobi Lee’s. It’s Bobbi Lee who bears the brunt of the media’s full attack and Bates’ sincere performance and the pain and anguish at having to face down this baying beast gets into your heart and is sure to move you to tears.
Standing next to Hauser’s Jewell in his hour of need is Sam Rockwell as attorney Watson Bryant. And it’s a part and performance that clarifies why Rockwell is one of the most in-demand actors working today. As the irascible, mouthy, and in-your-face Watson, Rockwell jumps off the screen and is a scene-stealer in every single regard. His character is very much the objective centre of this film and as he tries to keep the baying dogs from Jewell’s doorstep, he also has to contend with a system that has blinded itself to the truth amidst an angry mob mentality. As Watson, Rockwell goes toe-to-toe with the other actors in his scenes in Richard Jewell and his hunt for the truth to clear Richard’s name gives this film its substance.
Stepping back from the director’s chair, Olivia Wilde makes a return in front of the camera with Richard Jewell as reporter Kathy Scruggs and she’s a straight-up bitch here. Wilde portrays Scruggs as an overly ambitious, fast-talking egotist who is willing to go to extreme lengths to get what she wants and has no qualms about using people to get there. While she’s the first one to break the Richard Jewell story and swiftly follows through to get more out of it, her hubris gets checked when she discovers that there is no way Jewell could have committed this crime, and she’s left reeling with the fact that she’s condemned an innocent man. Richard Jewell is a film that gives Wilde a challenge when it comes to performance and she rises to meet it.
Bringing the narrative of Richard Jewell together is Jon Hamm as FBI Agent Tom Shaw who feels the full brunt of the Atlanta bombing with it happening on his home turf, and because of this feels indebted to make sure he finds the perpetrator no matter the cost. As Shaw, Hamm takes the gloves off here and his turn as the pursuer crafts him into the role of the villain as he viciously hunts Jewell, even though he’s in all likely innocent. While Eastwood doesn’t out and out vilify Hamm’s Shaw, he does lay it on pretty thick here with Shaw as the idea of law and order left unchecked and which caught up in an unstoppable pressure cooker of hate and obsession, can’t see through to the truth. Hamm doesn’t disappoint in the role, and you can tell that working with Eastwood was a career highlight for the actor, and this most definitely influences the intensity of his performance.
With Richard Jewell Eastwood puts his homeland under a microscope as only he can and examines what happens when due process gets dropped in favour of mob madness. This film is an incredibly harsh critic to the media, and while a definite period piece, we all to often feel the repercussions of a 24-hour news cycle that increasingly favours sensation over the truth. Stylistically, Richard Jewell is a quintessential Eastwood film and is delivered in a similar style to his works like Gran Torino and The Mule, where he tells the story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. Richard Jewell is also extremely heavy on the emotion and when the credits do begin to roll there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Filmmakers don’t get more impressive than the likes of Clint Eastwood and Richard Jewell is another fine entry in his long list of credits. It’s a moving, evocative and extremely relevant film to our current time period and is a must-watch for true cinema aficionados.
Image: Roadshow Films