[#2020oscardeathrace] Richard Jewell (2019)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser

Screenplay: Billy Ray

131 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Kathy Bates] [PENDING]

 

Director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, The 15:17 to Paris) is back again with another true life tale, this time surrounding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the aftermath. It’s interesting that Eastwood’s films just kind of show up with a trailer for a movie I didn’t even know existed, and I loved the trailer for this one, so I was quite eager to see it. I only hoped that the film would live up to the hype.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, I, Tonya, Late Night) is a security guard tasked with patrolling Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. On July 27th, Richard discovers a suspicious package at the park and he makes a call that saves many lives when the package is revealed to be a bomb. Richard is seen as a hero. But FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, TV’s Mad Men) believes that Richard may have actually been the man who placed the bomb in Centennial Park. Add to that the story published on the front page of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution written by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, Life Itself) revealing that Jewell is a suspect, and suddenly Richard is no longer the hero but the prime suspect in the eyes of members of the public, the United States government, and the media. Enter Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon), an attorney who befriended Jewell a decade prior, who is out to protect Jewell’s rights and, hopefully, keep him out of jail.

Paul Walter Hauser may not be a bankable leading man, but he knocks his performance out of the park here. I’ve been a fan of Hauser’s since I, Tonya, and he was a standout in BlacKkKlansman and several other films, but he’s at the forefront here, and he does not disappoint.

Hauser is also surrounded by a bevy of big-screen talent. Kathy Bates (Misery, The Highwaymen) portrays Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, and while she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, she makes use of it, culminating in a powerful scene that earned her an Oscar nomination. Rockwell is also at the top of his game as Bryant, a man trying to help his friend who seemingly doesn’t understand the politics of his situation. Richard keeps saying the wrong thing and Bryant’s biggest battle is not against the FBI or the media but actually changing Richard’s mindset into that of a fighter.

On the opposite side of things, I really didn’t like the characters of Tom Shaw and Kathy Scruggs. From the writing and characterization to the directing, I was unimpressed with these two antagonists that were reduced to mustache-twirling stock villains. I don’t really get Shaw’s motivation for targeting Richard Jewell, and I feel like Scruggs has a motivation, but it’s never really confirmed and only ever inferred. Much love for Hamm and Wilde who did the best with the material, but these were bad characters.

There’s another small detail of the film that took me out of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of using real footage in films based on true events. Several films have enacted this idea, perhaps in an attempt to remind us as viewers that this actually happened, but it only serves to take me out of the film and remind me that I’m watching a recreation. It happens in when an interview between Richard and Katie Couric occurs that uses Hauser’s voice but real footage of Jewell, and I really don’t like it. It loses the realness and the concoction of the actor voice and the subject visual really doesn’t work. It is a small moment, but it does detract from the viewing experience.

I think that Richard Jewell is a fine film, but it suffers from a lack of elements that draw in the viewer. I liked several pieces of the puzzle, but the way Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Gemini Man) deal with their antagonists absolutely falls flat. Hauser is at the top of his game here as is Bates and Rockwell, and overall they keep the film moving in a mostly-satisfying way. This is still one worth seeing, but it feels like the overall impact of the film is missing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, click here.

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