RICHARD JEWELL is Clint Eastwood’s best film in at least 12 years (CHANGELING, 2008), and it features a trio of Oscar-caliber performances. Based on the true events of a security guard at Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics who espied a suspicious backpack under a bench, the movie tells the astonishing story of Richard Jewell going from hero to terror suspect.
The backpack contained bombs that were eventually detonated, killing two bystanders and injuring over 100 other attendees. Jewell’s decisive actions in clearing the area as quickly as possible saved countless other lives. But in a rush to judgment, and desperately needing a scapegoat, the FBI and others decided that Jewell fit the profile of a law enforcement wannabe who planted the bomb to become a heroic figure.
The media played a large part in condemning Jewell, as well. Reporter Kathy Scruggs was the byline writer announcing that he was under scrutiny by the FBI. Television outlets and others around the country ran with this theory, something they all pursued for 88 days.
Although these events occurred over 20 years ago, Eastwood wanted to bring the story to the big screen, avowing that what happened to Jewell could happen to any ordinary citizen. And he felt it needed to be told.
RICHARD JEWELL is one of the year’s better films. At the heart of the movie is actor Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell. He is in most scenes, and his portrayal of the victimized Jewell is as exceptional as any male performance I’ve seen this year. Hauser is so effective as the “gentle giant” who wants only to be helpful to people, especially in a law enforcement capacity. Early on, we see the good side of Jewell as the mail clerk in the office of his future attorney, Watson Bryant, ensuring Bryant has plenty of his favorite Snickers candy bars.
However, 2019 has been an extraordinary year for incredible male portrayals, so Hauser may not make the short list for Best Actor. I found Hauser’s reenactment of Richard Jewell’s behavior and composure admirable. He studied Jewell’s mannerisms and speaking habits, so he was able to master Richard’s cadence as suggested by Richard’s mother, Bobi, and Bryant. Credit the extraordinary screenplay by Billy Ray.
Kathy Bates plays Bobi and Sam Rockwell is Bryant. Both players are worthy of Best Supporting Actor nods from the Academy. Bates earns her plaudits when she takes the microphone at a press conference in support of her son. Rockwell is at his best when he discovers that Jewell could not possibly have committed the crime, because he and his whip-smart secretary, Nadya (Nina Arianda) --- who later becomes his wife in real life –
determine his innocence. Watson then declares --- not once, but twice --- that this boy is “being railroaded”, and “we will help him”.
Jon Hamm plays fictional FBI agent Tom Shaw who is an amalgamation of the different FBI men handling Jewell’s investigation. Hamm’s villainous role should evoke anger and disbelief that someone without any evidence could adhere to the opinion that Jewell is “guilty as hell”.
Olivia Wilde is Kathy Scruggs. Her eagerness to have a scoop is offset when she later realizes the truth. Wilde’s memorable performance is currently being challenged by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the late Scruggs’ newspaper (she died in 2001 of a prescription drug overdose). The paper’s complaint is that Wilde’s character is deceptive because she is seen as exchanging sex to get the goods for her story about Jewell, which they claim never happened.
RICHARD JEWELL is the kind of sensationalized story about a true underdog that movie audiences should regale. And Hauser is perfectly cast as the sympathetic Jewell.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!