Movie Review: Richard Jewell

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R |

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Marie Brenner (magazine article), Billy Ray (screenplay)

by Jason Koenigsberg

Clint Eastwood continues his obsession with directing films based on modern real life American heroes. In the past few years he helmed American Sniper (2014), Sully (2016), 15:17 to Paris (2018), and now he closes out the decade with Richard Jewell, a film that fits the mold of the other titles listed. Richard Jewell was the security guard who was wrongfully accused of the bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. For those old enough to remember his name was everywhere in the news that summer and became the butt of many Norm MacDonald jokes during the Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live. Now his story has been immortalized thanks to Clint Eastwood wanting to clear his name for future generations of movie goers. I was expecting Richard Jewell to follow the blueprint of the recent films he directed this decade listed above, what I was not expecting and pleasantly surprised that Richard Jewell is the best film Clint has directed in nearly a decade. 

The opening shot is of an office building and a beautiful blue sky with some clouds. Inside we see Richard Jewell working as a supply room delivery boy in 1986. He is played by Paul Walter Hauser last seen in I, Tonya (2017) and is perfectly cast in the biggest role of his career thus far. Years ago there were rumors that DiCaprio was going to play the part with Eastwood directing but we are all fortunate that an actor who looks very similar to the real person was eventually cast. Thankfully, Leo stepped aside and is credited as a producer. Hauser’s resemblance to Richard Jewell is uncanny. There is one scene where they used real footage of Jewell in a Katie Couric interview and you could tell it was a different person, but only slightly. Also in the first scene we meet Sam Rockwell as an attorney who befriends Jewell and will later become his attorney after the FBI investigate and accuse him of the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta. 

Most of the action in Richard Jewell revolves around that day and the subsequent investigation and exoneration of the title character. Hauser and Rockwell are both  likable and believable in their roles as the protagonists and on the flip side, Olivia Wilde is equally as detestable. Her character is introduced as an absolutely malicious woman. She plays the reporter that runs the story that the FBI are investigating the security guard who found the bomb which unleashes a whirlwind of chaos onto the lives of Jewell and his compassionate mother Bobbie played eloquently by the always reliable Kathy Bates. Wilde’s reporter character named Kathy Scruggs is ambitious, overzealous, and only cares about controversy to sell newspapers and become famous. If Olivia Wilde’s performance does not get as much praise as the performances of Hauser, Rockwell, and Bates, it is simply because she did her job so well and everyone walks out of the movie hating her. Richard Jewell will also probably have a lot of the #MeToo people up in arms because Olivia Wilde’s reporter willingly uses sex, even on FBI agents, to give her a lead and get what she wants from men. Not something that is commonly seen in motion pictures made these days. 

This movie has created some controversy itself with its depiction of the newspaper reporters unscrupulous efforts and the FBI’s questionable methods of obtaining evidence against Jewell. Eastwood obviously made this movie out with the purpose to condemn the media, both liberal and conservative outlets, with their unashamed and irresponsible news coverage using Richard Jewell’s case as a prime example of their idiocy. Olivia Wilde’s performance alone makes the media look really bad and thankfully Eastwood’s direction around her is never patronizing with its message. He takes potshots at the FBI as well and their mishandling of the Richard Jewell instance in an effort to make Mr. Jewell out to be an unsung American hero, and Eastwood succeeds mightily. 

Richard Jewell portrays its subject as someone nobody in society respects. A dimwitted doughboy that everyone walks all over. The only character outside of his loving mother that saw an individual in Jewell was Sam Rockwell’s attorney and so he was nice to him. Richard Jewell is depicted as man who loves his country, his government, his mother and always respects authority. Even though he is disrespected by people everywhere he goes he still holds his head high and does his job as best as he can. This is what the Joker movie should have been. They both tell the story of a frustrated white man ignored and cast off by most of society, men lost in a mad and crazy world. I realize that Richard Jewell is based on a true story and Joker was meant to be inflammatory. One is based on a true story and the other is a comic book origin story of a villain but they both deal with the same themes, just Richard Jewell does so more responsibly and is a better directed movie that conjures up genuine emotions from the viewer. Clint Eastwood as a director does not resort to cheap tactics to tell his story either. He is not aping another directors style. He uses minimal music to never manipulate the audience and had a lot of two shots that let the actors performances tell the story. Eastwood has his own tried and true technique that works as long as the script is solid which is something Eastwood has been known to seldom deviate from. He has a reputation to deliver movies in a timely and efficient manner, often ahead of schedule and under budget which explains why at 89 years old he still averages directing about one film per year. Richard Jewell is his best film in nearly ten years and as the new decade dawns, Eastwood will likely be a nonagenarian still directing films for Warner Bros. If they are as good as Richard Jewell then the audiences will continue to be grateful for such high quality, prestige pictures. 

Instead of the trailer below are a bunch of clips of Norm MacDonald making Richard Jewell jokes when he was a big star in SNL. These jokes created their own controversy back in the mid-90’s.

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