It was an outrage, quite frankly. An innocent man, doing his job and saving countless lives when many more would have been lost if he hadn’t, was made the key perpetrator of an unspeakable crime. A terrorist crime, no less, because he fit the profile. It was a time before social platforms and the plethora of media pressures, particularly in the US, but it was no less of an event, a swarm of uninformed people fighting tooth and nail to get the exclusive and make sure the person who was supposedly evil was brought to justice. How wrong they were, and in Clint Eastwood‘s new drama, he explores the dangers of the media and the justice system that still do more harm than good.
The story is of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a local Georgia man who is easy for pigeon hole as he has his whole life – a loner who lives with mother and is overweight. But as many found out, he’s smarter and more thoughtful than most in the room but because of such forces, has never made it to his dream job of being a police officer, settling for college campus and event security jobs that went some way to his goal to help people. One fateful day in Centennial Olympic Park, he notices a suspect package that would ultimately explode killing dozens and wounding hundreds. The bomber eludes the authorities but could it be that Jewell, the hero, is also the villain. Why? Because he fits the profile. From there, his and his mother’s (Kathy Bates) life become untenable, with old friend and lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) the only one they believe can bring justice to the surface.
In his twilight years, so to speak, Eastwood has delved into many subjects and through most of them he has been drawn to the humanity of the story, those who lives (fictional or real) have been affected by the surroundings they find themselves in. With Richard Jewell, a project that has been on the radar for many years since the event, he found much to say about such things but for most of the film it feels like he is only scratching the surface of this hugely controversial and devastating incident of many levels.
Indeed, as with The Mule and American Sniper, there feels like a big chasm opens up in the final third of the film that doesn’t feel satisfactory or engaging. It just ends and it leaves you feeling short changed, particularly as much of the film is engaging and thoughtful with some brilliant performances. Rockwell and Bates are as mighty as usual but it’s Hauser’s powerful central turn that will keep you talking after the fact, much more than the film will. There’s also Olivia Wilde’s much talked about turn as journalist Kathy Scruggs and there’s a huge disconnect with both the performance and the characterisation, which feels misplaced on pretty much every level.
Awards season always brings us drama in spades and where others have succeeded and failed, Richard Jewell finds itself somewhere in the middle: a serviceable, smart retelling of a staggering piece of modern history that sadly won’t stay with you too long afterwards despite some winning central turns.
Drama, Biography | USA, 2019 | 15 | 31st January 2020 (UK) |Warner Bros. Pictures | Dir.Clint Eastwood | Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, John Hamm, Olivia Wilde,