RICHARD JEWELL is Clint Eastwood’s very best film in a long, long time. I’m talking either Million Dollar Baby or Gran Tarino long. All of this makes me feel that even though he filmed this quickly to get it out by Oscar season, he might’ve cared a little bit more about the material. Now my review isn’t going to get into either of the controversies about how true this film based on a ‘true’ story actually is and the one-sided argument of how fucked up the news media and law enforcement treated this individual and how asinine their investigation was…even though I do really think that they both fucked up royally here. I’m here to talk about the movie. The acting, the direction, the pacing, the story. All of it quite solid, especially Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser. I took this movie as just a very good cautionary tale on what happens when the upmost care doesn’t get done in investigating an individual of a serious crime.
The movie is about the 1996 bombing of Centennial park during the Olympic Games in Atlanta. A security officer, named Richard Jewell, found a suspicious looking package/backpack under some bench, called it in, and got people to move back enough that even though it went off and did cause some casualties/damage, it wasn’t as bad if he hadn’t discovered it at all. Due to some of Jewell’s past history in trying to get into the law enforcement game and at times trying to take his aspirations a little too seriously, the FBI immediately looks at him as the prime suspect, the information gets leaked to a feisty reporter looking to advance her career, and everything basically goes to hell for the man. The movie right off the bat shows there was in no way Richard Jewell was even remotely responsible or had anything to do with the bombing. None of the timing made sense, and even though the FBI knew that, they still persisted thinking he was their guy, even though nothing else added up either. It takes a toll on not only Jewell, but his mother, who he lives with, as she at first thinks her son is a hero, only to be worried almost to death that her son will be put to death for a crime he did not commit.
The direction from Eastwood and the performances make the movie. If Eastwood got most of this movie in only one or two takes like he normally does, he must’ve had some luck on his side, because the movie’s pacing and editing is quite perfect (compare it to the oddity of his worst film IMO, that 15:17 to Paris film). He has always been an actor’s director, and with Richard Jewell, he just keeps nailing that nail that has already been in the solid ground for quite some time. Sam Rockwell does what he does best, and shows again whey he deserved that Oscar he received for Three Billboards he received a couple of years ago. He plays Richard Jewell’s lawyer, who comes out of it also being a really close friend. He’s amazing. Nasty needs to be, but compassionate at the same time. If this year wasn’t already chocked full of great performances, he’s be nominated for an Oscar soon. The truly extraordinary performance though is from Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell. I had heard some things about his performance going into it, and about 30 minutes in, I didn’t really know what everyone was raving about. But about 5 minutes after that, wow. What might just get him a nomination is a scene where Rockwell’s character asks him if he’s mad, and Hauser just blows up and screams, “of course he is” and from then on his performances reaches levels I didn’t think it would go to at the beginning of the film. If you need only one reason to see this movie, it is his performance alone. He isn’t entirely new to Hollywood, you might know him more for being a comedian and bit roles in Late Night and BlackkKlansman.
Kathy Bates is also getting Oscar talk, playing Jewell’s mother, and other than one scene where she is behind a microphone, talking to the world defending her son, I honestly don’t see the fuss. Kathy Bates has always been a great actress, but I just don’t see her deserving of a nomination here. She plays a worried mother well, but I’ve seen it all before. She already has her Oscar, time to look for someone new. But yes, this movie is a roller coaster ride, at points you think that Richard Jewell has no way out, and that fate is certainly stacked against him, but then he and his lawyer start fighting back, and there is nothing to do but to hope and cheer for him to get on the right side of things. It very much acts like a procedural episode on any sort of law enforcement television show, but with amped up acting and direction. The 2 hr and 10 minute run time flew by, and at one point I was worried everything was happening too quickly. But rest assured, it didn’t, and I’m glad to see that a Clint Eastwood film finally has some merit again for deserved Oscar talk. It was a very interesting study on not just character, but on the media and justice system as a whole.