“The world will know his name and the truth.” That is the tagline for the film I’m about to talk about, Richard Jewell, and after watching it those words couldn’t be more true. Director Clint Eastwood has a tendency of making films about regular people doing extraordinary actions (Sully and American Sniper to name a few) and Richard Jewell is no exception here. Before I go into details about this film, the one thing that impressed me about Richard Jewell is how Clint Eastwood managed to tell this story given he is almost ninety years old, which shows he still has passion for the craft. Did it pay off here? Let’s find out.
Based on a true story, Richard Jewell follows the title character, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a law enforcement enthusiast who wants nothing more than to protect people. After getting fired from a campus security guard due to having an unorthodox approach to the position, he gets a security job for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. One night while on duty, he discovers a backpack filled with pipe bombs and from there he takes immediate action and tries to get people away from the area quickly as possible. His quick thinking saved a lot of people and he was labeled a hero. His fifteen minutes of fame went away as he was soon the primary suspect in the bombing due to fitting the profile of someone who would plant a bomb. From there Jewell tries to get his named cleared with the help of his lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell). He is aided by not going against the FBI, or the media.
Earlier I said that Richard Jewell is based on a true story, which in reality means that it was inspired by true events as Hollywood likes to fabricate the story for the average movie goers. That being said, whatever changes they may have made here may have worked in their favor as it is a very well told story about a person that is not only likable, but has you rooting for them at the end.
What works in Richard Jewell is the title character himself. I applaud Eastwood for casting an unknown actor to play Jewell as I believe it would’ve been a disservice casting someone more familiar. It would’ve been distracting casting someone well known (a problem I had with Sully with Tom Hanks playing the lead) and Paul Walter Hauser did a fantastic job playing a well-meaning but flawed character. It’s uncertain if Hauser will get any award nominations for his portrayal, but hopefully Hollywood will take notice and give him more roles. Another thing I have to give Eastwood credit for is his commentary on the media and law enforcement. Matthew 7: 1-2 talks about not judging others and how the way you judge others will be measured back to you. That becomes very clear once the media and law enforcement go against him. Throughout the film Richard is constantly profiled based on his background and lifestyle as both parties want a target for their story and a form of justice to give back to not only the American People, but the victims of the bombing. Towards the end of the film it does show the negative effects of judging others and how it can ruin their lives, though in Jewell’s case he was able to isolate himself from the event years later and better his life.
Any complaints I do have about Richard Jewell are the characters from the law enforcement side and the media. In the film Jon Hamm plays an F.B.I. agent named Tom Shaw while, Olivia Wilde plays a reporter named Kathy Scruggs for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While necessary to have these two characters in the film as they drive the plot, I feel like they weren’t given much direction other than to be villainous characters that makes you want to dislike them. It’s not uncommon for most films to have characters to have no much dimension to them, but it felt distracting.
I’m not sure if Richard Jewell will make it in my best of the year list as there are other great films that I have seen. However if there’s one film I recommend seeing between now and end of the year, it’s this one as it is that rare film that relies on credible acting rather than name recognition, and is something you’ll want to learn more about after you see it. It’s unclear if Clint Eastwood will continue to direct again due to his advancing age, but if this was his last film then he ended on a good note.