During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a major tragedy was significantly lessened in a feat of heroism. Security guard Richard Jewell discovered a pipe bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park and cleared out a significant portion of the bystanders prior to its eventual detonation. One person was killed directly and many were injured, but, with an event that could have been so much more horrific, this quick action saved countless lives. Initially hailed as a hero, the media erroneously offered up Richard as a possible suspect in the bombing, forever tarnishing his reputation. Richard Jewell has long been cleared of any involvement in the event, but there are still those who mistakenly believe that he was the architect of the bombing. Director Clint Eastwood had a major problem with that notion, so he decided to make a film to set the record straight.
Richard Jewell gives a pretty quick, well-rounded portrait of the titular character prior to the bombing from his initial aspirations of joining law enforcement to subsequent failings to thrive in these environments. Richard is deftly portrayed in one of the most underrated performances of the year by the incredible Paul Walter Hauser (I,Tonya, Blackkklansman). Hauser gives an uncanny performance physically as Richard, but it is the depth he gives the character that is truly noteworthy. Richard has the type of personality that could have easily been played over the top or one note, but Hauser treats him as a three dimensional human being with both flaws and a lot of heart. Richard is extremely naïve and has an enthusiasm for authority that can be frustrating to witness, but you always understand where he is coming from and how someone can get caught up in the situation he did.
The portrayal of the bombing and the subsequent investigation is very engaging throughout the entirety of the film. Most will be aware of the basic facts of the bombing, but Eastwood is able to ratchet up the tension so effectively that you temporarily forget whether or not Richard will be able to save the day. The subsequent celebration of Richard as a hero is heartening to witness, especially when you see his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates), beaming with pride. This is what makes the doubts from FBI Agent Tom Shaw (John Hamm) and media reports of his complicity from Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) and the Atlanta Journal so tough to watch. The sense of dread as Richard slowly but surely makes things worse for himself with every FBI interaction is overwhelming. Thankfully, Richard has an ally in attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who makes every effort to open Richard’s eyes to the fact that the law does not always work the way it should. The push and pull between faith in justice and reality is the bedrock of this movie.
The performances are so great throughout the movie and tension is built so expertly that it is a shame that it falters in some key respects. There is a clear bias from director Clint Eastwood that many will find off-putting. In the age of “fake news” and distrust of the media in general, Eastwood taps into his yelling-at-an-empty-chair energy and gives Kathy Scruggs an especially problematic portrayal. Kathy is shown to be someone who sleeps with sources in order to score a story, which has been vehemently denied by her paper. Even if this was true, the fact that Kathy passed away many years ago and is unable to defend herself is a bad look for the film. This is an unnecessary and sexist addition to the script and only serves to cause a greater distrust in the validity of modern journalism. There was very clearly some reckless reporting from the media, and the FBI really did a disservice to the legacy of this individual, but a more balanced approach to the story would have made the film more satisfying. Despite these failings, this film does get this incredible true story out in an exciting manner with some dynamite performances.
Richard Jewell comes to Blu-Ray with a pleasing 1080p transfer sourced from a 4K digital intermediate. While it would have been nice to see this get a 4K disc, the Blu-Ray provides an incredible amount of detail from texture on clothing to easily distinguishable background objects in the set design. Even Richard’s mustache is given a fine amount of detail here. The image handles shadows and darkness well with no overt instances of black crush. There are minor instances of bright colors showcased here, especially during Richard’s time at the arcade or during the concert in the park, but otherwise the image is never overwhelmed with color. This disc represents the film pretty much perfectly compared to how it looked in theaters.
This Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that accomplishes what it needs to do. The sound design is not super dynamic during the movie, but it gets all of the information out effectively. For the most part, the movie is focused on the dialogue with some bits of dramatic score and sound effects. When there is more activity such as the concert at the park, dialogue is still never overwhelmed and maintains its clarity. The surround speakers do not get much of a workout on this film, but there are the occasional effects that drift toward the rear. This is not going to be a track that completely envelopes you with sound, but that does not make it any less worthwhile.
- The Making of Richard Jewell: A seven-minute featurette that gives some short interviews with the cast and crew on why they wanted to tackle this story, the casting process and how they went about recreating important locations for the movie. A little light on information, but worth a glance.
- The Real Story of Richard Jewell: A nearly seven-minute piece discussing the real-life Richard Jewell with the cast and crew plus the real-life Bobi Jewell, Watson Bryant and more. It is very heartwarming to hear Paul Walter Hauser discuss how impactful it was for him to meet Richard’s real-life mother.
Richard Jewell has been a lightning rod for controversy since its debut, and the backlash on Eastwood’s bias and portrayal of Kathy Scruggs is entirely justified. However, these elements are a small, unfortunate part of a larger entertaining movie with some truly outstanding performances. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provides a Blu-Ray with a good A/V presentation, but is a little light on the extras. This one is definitely worth a watch where you can at least form your own opinion. Recommended
Richard Jewell is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.