Richard Jewell (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 129 Minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde
Clint Eastwood is a man of not too many words, especially when it boils to his filmography. When most of his directorial films nowadays come down a mix of true stories or giant passion projects, it becomes increasingly more difficult over the years to find a way to creatively liberate yourself before everything you make starts to feel like safe award grabs. And that is what ultimately feels like Richard Jewell’s biggest challenge. Eastwood’s latest movie is full of much of the same great aspects of Eastwood’s other works: a really great cast, excellent acting across the board, solidly sympathetic main characters and a generally bittersweet vibe once everything is done.
For those unaware of the story behind Richard Jewell’s life and the major legal issues he had to face in the 90s, it’s about how, in 1996, when he worked as a Security Guard during the Atlanta Olympic Games, he was touted as a hero when he discovered a bomb in the middle of Centennial Park, and was able to save hundreds of lives by evacuating the perimeter as the bomb exploded. Despite having saved so many people and having been seen in very high regard and respect in the media, an investigation was placed against him by the FBI when certain members began to suspect that he was the one that planted the bomb based on his history as a white man who wanted to become a police officer and got further escalated when reporter, Kathy Scruggs, eavesdropped on a conversation and made this investigation public to the media. As this story unfolds and Jewell and his Mother’s lives are turned upside down, he contacts lawyer, Watson Byrant, who he was once friends with to try and help him combat the authorities and make it clear to them that he never planted the bomb.
Richard Jewell is an interesting case where it really was the utter tragedy behind the story itself that saves a lot of its downfalls. To think that only two decades ago, an initially private investigation turned this far south and effectively ruined an innocent man’s life on this scale feels so unbelievably tragic to the point where its story needed to be told so that something like this never happens again. And to Eastwood’s credit as always with his projects, he makes the absolute most out of the cast involved to make this emotionally impactful. Paul Walter Hauser is really sympathetic as Richard Jewell, and he takes the loyal innocence of his main character to really dissect how his overt loyalty to authority proves as a massive issue when that comes across as a major weakness when he’s exposed as a suspect of the Atlanta Bombing. We see him as he first becomes a security guard of a local university and how his undying passion towards making the world a better place can also make him the enemy of people who find him to maybe be too obsessive. He’s basically one easy target for a crime that he would never ever commit despite hitting the same patterns any natural suspect could use as a defence mechanism. So through this, you would want to see him win, as there is already a good portion of the film in the first act dedicated to making you sympathise with him on such a strong level. As for the rest of the cast, Sam Rockwell is really good as the lawyer, Bryant, who’s easy going, yet also very hardcore personality help to make him the perfect force of encouragement and assertiveness for Jewell, and some major props have to go to Kathy Bates, who kills it as Jewell’s mother, Bobi, who’s character alone feels like a tragedy having to face the fact that her own pride and joy is a legal suspect.
But similarly as much as the cast and characterisation work on such an exponential level, even some aspects to that show some issues underneath the surface, and that all comes in the form of EASILY one of the worst written female characters of 2019: Kathy Scruggs played by Olivia Wilde. Being the woman who learned of the FBI’s investigation on Jewell and leaking it to the press, she’s portrayed as this disgustingly evil women who holds nothing back to demonstrate how she just leeches off of a story, even if it means ruining one man’s life for definite. Unlike the rest of the cast, which also includes the likes of Jon Hamm, who portray all of their characters in a fairly natural way to make the story feel believable and also make their motivations feel valid, Scruggs is played so overtly obnoxious that it’s very hard to believe she is meant to be a part of the same movie. She feels about as subtle as seeing a character like Dick Dastardly from Wacky Races put in a period drama about the collective unconsciousness, and considering that she is one of the few truly prevalent female characters in this, it isn’t exactly the best use of feminist representation, and it feels a bit pathetic that something this trivial in a film such as this has to be brought up. And that sucks, because what works best about this film is the characters and how they deal with a situation such as this. It really is the cast that carries the film because another big issue that Richard Jewell has to overcome is the somewhat slow pacing. The film starts off quite quickly as we see Jewell’s origins as a security guard along with his friendship with Byrant before the bomb in Centennial Park goes off and the events fully kick off. But all of this happens only in the first 30 minutes of this 130 minute film, meaning the majority of the film is mostly legal cases and Jewell having to come to terms with his own loyal beliefs to the Authority system, and while the performances help a lot to keep this film thoroughly engaging, it does mean the pacing does take a considerable hit, making the final product feel a lot longer than it really should be considering the brisk amount of time this all took place. It also doesn’t help too much that Eastwood almost always shoots his films in the most basic ways possible, mostly doing for a very raw colour palette, along with no real ambitious uses of cinematography outside of the Centennial Bombing to keep things all that engaging. It’s not a terrible looking film by any means, but it isn’t exactly ambitious or trying to be very creative with its source material. It just gets the job done and doesn’t do anything less. And in a film where the performances are the only majorly amazing aspects to it, then that’s a bit of a problem and a slight endurance test for the audience in what is meant to be an audio-visual medium.
Richard Jewell is basically like any other Clint Eastwood film that has come out in the last ten years. A wonderfully acted drama, with some harsh true stories behind them, but a generally safe experience overall that doesn’t do too much more outside of that. If anything, it’s thankful how a story like this can finally be told in public eyes, since what Richard and his mother had to go through can only be seen as tragic, but some of the stereotypical approaches to real life events and the unnecessarily extended runtime don’t help to make this one of the best films of its kind. For what it is, it’s a very safe, but overall riveting film simply based on its cast who help to make this Eastwood movie an engaging, if simple experience.
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (OKAY)
A terrific cast
Amazing performances across the board
Solid directing from Eastwood
A bittersweet conclusion
Generally too long
Filmmaking that plays too safe
Olivia Wilde’s character in general