Director: Clint Eastwood
Malapaso Productions / Appian Way Productions / Warner Bros. Pictures
Richard Jewell is the story of a security guard that went from national hero to chief suspect in a crushing blow for his own health and sanity and in an awful trial-by-media persecution that is just part of the downfall of the alleged American dream.
Clint Eastwood is in fine filmmaking form here – with this tone poem of an internalised anxiety; his Richard Jewell (the character and the film) is everything that is wrong with power structures in microcosm. But unfortunately the film has been met with some miss-the-point criticisms because of Eastwood’s own political stance and the poor decision (put it down to lazy writing and old-fashioned sexism) to cast Olivia Wilde as a one-note reporter that doesn’t get to do a lot beyond sleeping with a source to get the story – which never actually happened.
That is a bad mistake to add into the film. Reducing the journalist down to female and mocking her as oversexed. Far more interesting is the fact that the real journo was a muck-racking piece of shit, regardless of sexual appetite or gender. This, I guess, is where people get to attach Eastwood’s political motives; his critiquing of a liberal agenda, etc.
But really what’s on display here, and what’s important here, is the story of Jewell. Some deluded, Dunning-Kruger specimen of rent-a-cop that fit the obvious profiles (weird loner, lives with mum, gun-obsessed, not well-liked, obese). And the capturing of Jewell for this film by relatively unknown actor Paul Walter Hauser is sublime. It is poetry. Ballet.
Maybe you saw him in I, Tonya, a bit-part but very good. Here he is utterly mesmeric, the layers (pardon any pun) of Richard Jewell are so complicated, so crucial to the deep understanding of this movie. Jewell wanted only one thing in life: To be a cop. That he researched it to such a level that he got obsessed with collecting weapons and getting into the mind of the sort of criminals he hoped to one day apprehend means he was the perfect person to have on hand as a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. As a crowd of unknowing civilians danced en masse to The Macarena, Jewell identifies a pipe bomb and warns the people to scatter. He is a hero that saved lives.
But a disgruntled boss, a profile of him as a slob and a know-it-all and then unscrupulous journalists and a crooked, lazy FBI agent (Jon Hamm is devastatingly good and so thoroughly unlikable here) means that Jewell doesn’t really have a chance.
He might occasionally be his own worst enemy too – mouthing off at times, in awe of police procedure at others, he struggles to do what his lawyer (the always brilliant Sam Rockwell) tells him to do. And doesn’t seem to realise how quickly he is doing extra digging with the FBI’s spade.
The cast in this film is brilliant, a further shame that Wilde was reduced to nearly nothing. Kathy Bates is sublime as the overwhelmed mother who just wanted to be proud of a hero-son. Nina Arianda (maybe you know her from TV’s Goliath) is consistently outstanding in a wide variety of roles. And here as Rockwell’s partner and paralegal she is again superb.
What’s most amazing about this film though is the performance of Hauser. It is deep, nuanced. It is ultimately heart breaking.
Eventually, the real Richard Jewell had his name cleared. But the damage was done. He died at 44, result of a heart attack and complications from diabetes. He was broken by a system that had no need nor interest in ever caring about him. For whatever you don’t like about Eastwood, or for whatever secret messaging he puts into this film he does get to the heart of it – or his film does thanks to the amazing story and the efforts of an unlikely, almost unknown lead actor.
Funnily enough, this film did feel, at times, connected to I, Tonya. Where that was the sort of American movie that embarrasses the country that provides the source-material – perhaps through it’s sympathetic portrait of an underclass – Richard Jewell shows the flip side; the sympathy arriving too late. In this case it couldn’t save the man that had saved the lives of thousands.
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