Friday, December 13, 2019

Richard Jewell

Director Clint Eastwood's latest film examines Richard Jewell and the rise and fall of the security guard in the media from the hero who discovered a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics at Centennial Park to the FBI's prime suspect in the bombing. An indictment on both media and the tendency of local and federal agencies to decide on a narrative and attempt to fit the facts to it rather than the other way around, the film focuses on how the lack of any evidence didn't prevent either the FBI or the media at large from determining Jewell was guilty (despite the fact he was never charged with a crime).

Paul Walter Hauser is the stand-out as the naive Jewell who, even while being accused by the FBI, can't help but try and help due to his hero worship of the police. Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates are strong as the few supporters believing in Jewell's innocence while the other side of the investigation features far more one-note characters with Jon Hamm is stuck in a cliched cop role as the man leading the investigation, and other actors as forgettable nameless support, and Olivia Wilde is a slutty reporter whose need to break the story costs Jewell everything.

Despite Bates emotional scene in the film's final minutes, Richard Jewell feels very matter of fact, almost a docudrama replaying the events rather than a dramatization. Part of this is due to the Hauser's portrayal of Jewell that rarely shows much emotion and part of it has to do with Eastwood's interest being more in calling out reporters and police than truly examining the lasting effects of what happened on his title character. What's perplexing, is the film gives almost no time to the arrest of the actual terrorist responsible for the attack, other than a tacked on mention at the end, which the style of film Eastwood presents would seem to make a much higher priority.

There's a good story at the heart of Richard Jewell, along with an obvious moral about innocent until proven guilty. The script by Billy Ray oversimplifies events to frame the story Eastwood wants to tell, but it also lacks a true villain which limits the conflict at times. Both the media and FBI believed they got the right man, and Eastwood doesn't present a strong argument that anyone knowingly was trying to frame Jewell for a crime he didn't commit. Instead, the villain, in Eastwood's view, appears to be modern society and a media age too focused on fast results to care about the consequences when mistakes are made. While this has more than a little of the old man "get off my lawn" mentality of Eastwood's later films, in Richard Jewell he has a point (even if it isn't always as compelling as it should be).

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