PLOT: Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), an overzealous security guard, briefly becomes a hero when he discovers a bomb planted at the 1996 Summer Olympics, with his quick thinking preventing a massacre. His joy is short-lived when the FBI leaks to an unethical journalist that they’re looking at Jewell as a person of interest, making him an instant pariah.
REVIEW: RICHARD JEWELL has long been a passion project for director Clint Eastwood. It’s easy to see why. Going back to BRONCO BILLY (or maybe even earlier) his films have always had a keen interest in misfits. Who’s a bigger misfit than Jewell? In a matter of days, he went from being a national hero to a pariah despite a total lack of evidence that he was ever anything other than the first. The Vanity Fair article this is based on is called “American Nightmare” and certainly, that’s what this was for Jewell, who was seemingly only ever guilty of being overzealous and an oddball.
It’s a film that will no doubt be politicized, but putting all that aside, it can’t be denied that RICHARD JEWELL is important in that it gives us the blow-by-blow of a heinous trial by media that dismantled an innocent man’s life piece by piece. Everyone loves a good villain, and Eastwood’s film makes it clear that Jewell fits the profile to a T. Here he’s shown to be an awkward loner with a big gun collection, an off-putting manner, and some very close-minded ideals. He’s easy to make fun of and Eastwood himself isn’t above this, playing Jewell’s early, misguided attempts at his work for fun, busting some boozy kids for “Mickey Mousing” in their dorm, and even overstepping his role by acting like a cop when’s he’s anything but.
In that vein, Eastwood never makes you think Jewell was a paragon of virtue. But, it’s also made clear that he was always the clear-cut victim of many unscrupulous journalists and FBI agents, all of whom couldn’t wait to get a piece of him when the media started taking him down. Paul Walter Hauser is ideally cast in a role that was once ear-marked for Jonah Hill. Being mostly unknown outside of some scene-stealing parts in I, TONYA and BLACKKKLANSMAN, Hauser, with his uncanny resemblance to the man, makes you feel like you’re watching Jewell suffer in real-time. He’s an absurd character but Hauser’s naïve innocence makes him empathetic to a huge degree, even if he’s frustrating to all, even those closest to him.
In Eastwood’s movie, it’s the beautiful people who have it in for Jewell, with Jon Hamm’s FBI agent going after him in part as a way to justify his obliviousness during the bombing. More troublingly, Olivia Wilde’s journalist Kathy Scruggs is initially portrayed as a monster. She seems to be inflicting pain on Jewell with relish, and the movie certainly would have benefited from a more nuanced approach in this regard. Still, Wilde’s performance certainly can’t be faulted, with her subtly humanizing her as the movie comes closer to its conclusion (in some ways Scruggs and Jewell eventually had something in common – they both tragically died young).
Their relationship is an interesting one, with Jewell knowing him from having worked in the mailroom of his firm years ago. When it starts Rockwell is a high-flying, possibly coked-up lawyer rocking and rolling, and subtly making fun of the office guy he calls “Radar”, only for him to make a 180 when Jewell comes to him for help years later. He becomes the champion he needs and his protector not only from the media but from himself. Rockwell specializes in playing likable rascals and this casts him strongly to type, bringing some welcome levity to the role but also a palpable sense of outrage at how his client is being victimized over and over by people without any compassion whatsoever.
RICHARD JEWELL does fall prey to some of the usual pitfalls in Eastwood movies, with the editing a little off simply because he cranks them out so fast. It feels like Joel Cox never gets to produce anything more than a rough cut – but such is Eastwood’s way (it should be said – the editing on the bombing set-piece is first-rate). The soundtrack by Arturo Sandoval also amps up the movie’s sentimentality, another Eastwood hallmark, but it can’t be denied this is effective. Certainly, this is Eastwood’s best movie in years and you can tell this was a project close to his heart. The acting is superb, the writing (by Billy Ray) is top-notch and as a whole, RICHARD JEWELL is a compelling, heart-breaking work. It ranks near the top of Eastwood’s latter-day canon.