News travels fast, and unfortunately it can lead to mishaps, mistakes and early announcements that are later debunked. That’s exactly what happened in “Richard Jewell,” and an innocent person was forced to deal with the negative results.
The movie follows the story of the title character, played here by Paul Walter Hauser. After some introduction scenes, the movie picks up with Jewell working security for AT&T events at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Jewell aspires to one day have a steady job in law enforcement, so he takes his work very seriously, much more so even than his colleagues in the security business. While he receives some jokes about his commitment to a seemingly safe concert area, his concerns, unfortunately, turn out to be valid.
One night during his shift, he comes across a suspicious backpack that happens to contain an explosive device that had been left there by a terrorist. The film captures the moment the bomb goes off after its discovery and how Jewell was initially seen as a hero for calling it in and reporting it to officers.
Sadly, as history tells us, Jewell was then made a suspect by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a media firestorm erupts. In an effort to defend himself, Jewell hires a friend and lawyer from a former job, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) and tries to survive as his life is investigated.
Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort is an engrossing feature, to an extent. While Jewell had some issues in his life, picking up a few misdemeanors and losing a couple jobs, he did his duty that night and he becomes a completely sympathetic figure.
Jewell was a person who believed in law enforcement and doing proper investigations, so naturally, he wanted to assist in bringing the person who caused so much pain and suffering to justice. It’s especially true in this situation because Jewell witnessed the horrific event first hand. However, because of the way things unfolded, he’s forced to confront his idealism and belief in law enforcement, and it becomes endearing.
Moments with him pouring his heart out to Watson or his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates), are heartfelt and make for compelling drama. The same can be said for scenes where Watson puts all his effort into helping Richard and works to clear his name.
Where the movie stumbles a bit is in its portrayals of the FBI and the media. Concerning the latter, the film seems over-focused in centering on the reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who was covering the investigation into Jewell for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While Scruggs was of course a central figure in that she broke the story, it would’ve been maybe beneficial to see more input from her editor, or even how other newsrooms were figuring out how exactly to run the story.
Regarding the FBI, the movie only portrays the investigation into Jewell, which is understandable since they made him a key suspect. However, one wishes Eastwood would’ve dedicated more time to maybe the forensic investigation, or maybe found if there were any agents skeptical of the Jewell narrative that had been built.
Another angle could have been giving more insight into the lead agent working on Jewell’s case, played here by Jon Hamm. He comes across having what almost seems like a vendetta against Jewell, and is somewhat one dimensional. Showing him more as a person obsessed with the case, similar to the protagonists in 2007’s “Zodiac,” could have perhaps given the movie a broader identity.
The film does benefit from some fantastic acting across the board, though. Hauser is really good as the well-meaning Jewell. Richard, from this movie’s portrayal, is clearly more of a reserved man who’s trying to keep his cool in this situation. Hauser really gets this aspect down, as Jewell struggles to both protect his name while also wanting the attack to be solved.
The person stealing the show, though, is Rockwell as Jewell’s fiery lawyer. At first, Watson sees Jewell as somewhat of a loose acquaintance but, as the movie goes on, and he becomes sure of Richard’s innocence, he becomes a close friend and does everything he can do to help the situation. Rockwell sells this character development so well, and his performance clearly portrays Watson’s passion for the case.
As for the direction, “Richard Jewell” is one of Eastwood’s better features, easily ahead of last year’s “The Mule” and “The 15:17 to Paris,” as well as 2014’s “Jersey Boys.” However, the don’t quite reach the same heights as “Sully” and “American Sniper,” or other greats in his filmography like “Flags of Our Fathers.”
It’s mostly well crafted, though, and very well acted. Some of its broader story elements cause it to stumble a bit, though, and there is a sort of one-dimensional feeling. Overall, the movie comes in at a 3.75 out of 5.