HOLLYWOOD─What can I say about director Clint Eastwood beyond the guy knows how to craft a damn good movie. Eastwood hands down is in my list of top 5 greatest directors of all time. When he gets his hand on certain scripts he just brings magic to them in a way that not many other directors can. Rather its “Million Dollar Baby” or “American Sniper,” Eastwood is a force to be reckoned with. His latest project, “Richard Jewell” tells the story of the security guard who saved countless lives during the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
This is a story that I am slightly familiar with because I recall hearing about it 20 plus years ago. I didn’t know all the facts about the real-life Richard Jewell himself, but this movie attempts to fill some of those holes and tell his side of the story. Remember this is Hollywood so anytime you hear based on a true story or inspired by a true story be aware that some embellishing and sensationalism has taken place.
The first thing to note is that “Richard Jewell”, while a tale about a man who was heralded a hero and then falsely accused by the media as being culpable in the bombings, is not as fleshed out as one would expect. There are some gaps in the narrative that just don’t mesh as well as a storyteller, as I would want them to be. The audience is given a minor slice of Jewell’s life before he is thrust into this media frenzy and the audience is made to sympathize with his plight.
Eastwood does a great job at conveying that sympathy through the exploitative camera of the media, with that said the political overtones in the movie cannot be ignored. You might say what exactly does that mean? It’s no secret Eastwood supports the conservative viewpoint, and the movie sharply criticizes the liberal point of view when it comes to the news arena. That slightly hurts the overall impact of the movie that is attempting to exonerate a man, while pointing the finger at another source as the catalyst of the inaccurate portrayal. News is supposed to be unbiased, and when that bias is so obvious even if it’s in a movie it can create problems.
Paul Walter Hauser’s portrayal of Jewell is fantastic; there are plenty of kudos to Hauser’s ability to capture this guy’s mannerisms are spot on. It is some stellar acting from Hauser who captures the essence of a guy that is misunderstood by many people in his orbit. Next to Hauser, Kathy Bates delivers an Oscar-caliber performance as Barbara Jewell, Richard’s mother, who fights to prove her son’s innocence. Bates immerses herself in this vulnerable role that shines the lengths that a mother will go to the depths of the Earth to prove her son’s innocence.
Sam Rockwell, who has proven his acting accolades in past performances, shines again here, as lawyer Watson Bryant, who is a confidant to Richard and helps to exonerate his name. However, Jon Hamm’s portrayal of an overconfident FBI agent is lackluster, and Olivia Wilde’s performance of reporter Sharon Scruggs is frustrating. Scruggs’ angle is not fully explored to the degree that I wanted. It points the finger that she flirts and potentially trades the notion of sex to get the scoop on the story. Scruggs’ family has adamantly denied those claims.
The one thing “Richard Jewell” nails with precision is the notion of the media running with a story as soon as one outlet reports it without properly doing the research, fact-finding and ensuring the evidence presented is factual and accurate. Jewell was guilty in the eyes of public opinion before any evidence surfaced whatsoever linking him as a possible suspect to the bombing. Eastwood does a sensational job examining how the duality of being guilty in the media’s eyes can immediately spill over to guilt in the eyes of law enforcement without concreted evidence to back-up the claim. The media is powerful, and when that power is not utilized in the right way it can destroy a person’s life, that can take years to recover from.