I personally find it amazing that Clint Eastwood is not only still directing movies, but is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Sure, his recent movies may not be in the same league as some of his best work, but anyone who still works at the age of 89 deserves some kind of credit. Recently, he’s found himself doing profiles on American heroes. Films like American Sniper and Sully found attention around awards season, while The 15:17 to Paris had many problems that critics and audiences couldn’t ignore. He made up for it with his last film The Mule, which I found to be underrated. Now he’s gone back to spotlighting American heroes with his new film Richard Jewell, a film that both has good intentions but doesn’t hesitate to vilify the media.
Richard Jewell follows the titular character as he aspires to become a police officer. We’re introduced to him as a college campus security guard, where he’s quickly fired due to taking his job a little too far. Shortly after he’s fired, he gets a job working security at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. While on the job one night, he notices an abandoned backpack, and advises the other security guards to keep the crowd clear. This action ends up saving lives when the bomb goes off, killing two and injuring at least a hundred more. In a matter of days, he goes from being hailed as a hero to becoming a suspect in the bombing.
Jewell is played by Paul Walter Hauser, who some people may remember as Shawn the bodyguard from I, Tonya. Here, he plays a more humble character who, over the course of the film, undergoes a transformation that makes his performance the best in the movie. During the investigation he acts like a doormat, letting the FBI walk all over him and invade the apartment where he and his mother live. Kathy Bates plays Jewell’s mother, Bobi, but doesn’t contribute that much to the film aside from giving a tearful speech to the press. Sam Rockwell plays Jewell’s attorney, Watson Bryant, in a solid supporting performance where he’s not taking any BS from the FBI. He especially doesn’t take any crap from Tom Shaw, played by Jon Hamm, who was in Centennial Park at the time of the bombing and is quick to point the finger at Jewell.
Then there’s Olivia Wilde, who isn’t exactly a weak link in the film but is my least favorite aspect. She plays Kathy Scruggs, who is the first person to push the story that Richard Jewell is the prime suspect in the bombing. Her performance has been making headlines, especially one scene where she offers her body to Shaw in exchange for information about the bombing. If I was to add anything to this so called “controversy,” it would probably be that for a film that strives for truth and justice, her character comes off like a cartoon. One of her first lines is her talking about how she wants to get a boob job, and when her story gets published, everyone in the news room stand up and applauds her. Give me a break. It seemed to me that Eastwood was aiming for a certain kind of demographic that is also quick to make enemies with the media, but it came at the cost of realism.
Richard Jewell is strong in some sections but weak in others. It’s at its worst when it tries to show how heartless the media can be and how quick public opinion can turn on someone. It’s at its best when it focuses on Jewell and how this “trial by media” is taking a toll on him and the people who are close to him. Anchored by some solid performances, including Paul Walter Hauser at the center of it all, and you have a middle-of-the-road Eastwood film. It’s not his best, but it’s not his worst.