Richard Jewell (2019)
Synopsis: American security guard, Richard Jewell, heroically saves thousands of lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics, but is unjustly vilified by journalists and the press who falsely report that he was a terrorist.
If you were born in the last twenty years then you might have heard of the 1996 Centennial Park bombing and Richard Jewell. This event and the events following it are the basis for a very powerful movie that takes a look into how the media and the government nearly destroyed the life of an innocent man. (It’s a true story so no spoiler warning)
In 2016 the big topic and even today is “Fake News” – journalists and news outlets spreading fake news to boost their ratings, gain recognition and not caring who or what they harm in the process. There is also the sentiment that the government is corrupt especially with all the stuff in the last few years surrounding the FBI. These same topics today, three years ago and back in 1996 are what drives this movie. Now I don’t know if Clint Eastwood has some political agenda or what but his film does not paint the media or the federal government in a positive light. If Richard Jewell were a superhero movie then Jewell would be the hero and the media/FBI would be the villains of the story.
Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is a supply room clerk who desperately wants to get into law enforcement. It’s in his blood. While working a supply clerk he strikes up somewhat of a friendship with lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell). As Jewell departs his employment to focus on law enforcement, first getting a security guard job, he says his goodbyes to Bryant. Bryant gives him some money with the quid pro quo that Jewell must promise never to let power turn him into a monster.
Jewell finds employment at Piedmont College but is asked to resign after several complaints and Jewell performing duties outside his role. It’s this event that would set in motion the chain of events that would lead to Jewell going from hero to public enemy number one fast. The dean of school draws attention to Jewell as if he is almost jealous that Jewell might actually a true hero and he just won’t stand for that. I admit that Eastwood really emphasizes the slime balls of this film, which is just about everyone outside of Jewell and his friends.
After a bomb is detonated inside the park, a bomb Jewell noticed and called attention to, he is dubbed a hero. Though Jewell tries to avoid all the attention and even credits many others for their bravery, it’s Jewell the media is enamored with. Talk show appearances, book deals, the works. For three days I’m sure Jewell was on cloud 9. It’s at this point things begin to spiral out of control.
The film felt like a few stories in one. A story about Richard Jewell, a story about the media and the FBI. The film sets up the other characters including Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) and FBI Special Agent Tom Shaw. Kathy is portrayed as a sleazy, do what it takes journalist who feels she is better than her co-workers. She will do whatever it takes to get the scoop even if it means trading her body for info. I will add that the AJC has disputed the portrayal of Kathy Scruggs in this film. Olivia Wilde does a terrific job coming off as an unlikable journalist who only seems to care about herself but after finally doing some real investigative journalism has a change of heart and an emotional moment that really made her character do a 180.
Then you have Agent Shaw (Jon Hamm). He is pissed he even has to work the Olympic event and he never comes off as well liked guy in the film. He seems like a corrupt official who took liberties with his job and at times in the film seemed to go out of his way to try and frame Jewell. A bomb went off and people died on his watch and he does not care if Jewell is innocent or not, he wants to take him down. The FBI really never seems to have interest in going after the real suspect and because of protocol and profiling, Jewell is immediately a person of interest. Richard fits the profile of a lone bomber with a hero complex. Jewell is an overweight, white male who lives with his mom and wanting to get back into law enforcement means he has to be the bomber, right? That is what the FBI would make you think.
Scruggs uses her charm and body to persuade Agent Shaw to tell her who they looking into. Shaw buckles and spills the beans. Scruggs takes this news without really doing any follow up work and makes sure it it hit the front page of the AJC. Never caring about the consequences this might have on Jewell and his family. The mainstream media picks up on this story and before you know it Richard Jewell hero is now public enemy number one. Outraged over the leak, The FBI moves into action against Richard. Jewell is oblivious to being on the FBI’s radar. Jewell volunteers to help create a training video for the FBI which they lied about to manipulate him into an interrogation. They even go as far as trying to get him to sign a “fake” document saying they read him rights. Luckily Jewell knew better and refused to sign. It is stuff like this and more examples of the FBI abusing his Constitutional rights.
It is all enough to make you stop and think about the media we look to for news and truth. And the government officials we look to protect us and our freedom. It is quite a powerful film that will no doubt make some moviegoers leave wondering can we trust the media and the government. Jewell is no doubt the underdog and he comes across as this lovable, simple guy who was just doing his job.
Hauser really does a brilliant job and this is for sure his best performance to date. The movie never feels long and Hauser’s performance keeps you engaged at all times. I have no doubt he should get an award nomination but the controversy of the film might prevent that. There is a terrific scene between Jewell and Bryant that showcases some great emotion from Hauser as he finally breaks down after all that he has had to endure. You really just want to break down with him because he really is the underdog and we ourselves at times feel like the underdog and we just want a win. Jewell really had everyone against him, even his lawyer doubted his innocence at first. You keep waiting for Jewell to fight back cause for most of the movie he sees himself as one of them, a law enforcement officer, and they see him a joke – a terrorist.
Rockwell I feel could do a diaper commercial and he would be terrific. I just love him as an actor and he and Hauser really do have some great moments in the film. There are some really funny exchanges between the two and that help lighten the tone of the film. I will add that this film is serious and considered a drama but I love how Eastwood was able to thrown in some comedic moments here and there. A scene that got a huge laugh from the audience was one where Jewell is asked if he has any guns in the house to which he answers something to the tune of “Of course, we do live in Georgia!”
Kathy Bates portrays Bobi Jewell, Richards mother. For most of the movie she is an innocent bystander caught up the turmoil that has fallen on her son. She is harassed by the media, her home is taken over by the FBI, and she does not understand why all this is happening. Her moment comes towards the end when she finally speaks out and begs the President to exonerate her son of these allegations. Bates plays this scene wonderfully and it is this scene that Scruggs realizes the damage all this has caused by leaking that info. You almost could feel the theater just go silent as they hurt for her. Bates no doubt deserves the Best Supporting Actress nomination.
In closing I will say that Richard Jewell is one of the best films I have seen in 2019. It did not really have a great score and the movie relies on archived grainy footage from 1996 at times but the movie is powerful and emotional. I was enthralled the entire time. With a run time over two hours, the film never felt long to me and I honestly wanted more. Of course I could pick up my phone and read all about it but as mentioned above this movie really clicks because Eastwood has gathered a terrific cast. You might leave this movie hating Jon Hamm’s Agent Shaw, I did. The dude was a prick and Hamm played that to perfection. I had no respect for Scruggs because I saw her as this journalist with no integrity whatsoever (she would be today’s version of click bait) until her moment of clarity when she realized the pain she caused.
Final Rating: 4/5
Richard Jewell is in theaters on Friday December 13 and stars Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm and Kathy Bates.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSMxBLlA8qY” align=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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