Richard Jewell (2019) Review

A CAUTIONARY TALE

OF “INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY”


 

Famed actor / director Clint Eastwood has always been drawn to stories of real-life individuals for his theatrical releases; acting as a sort of “muse” to frame a feature film around. Of late, Eastwood’s directorial features have always depicted peoples that showcases courage and bravery in the face of adversity or hardships, but also depicting themselves as individuals that are caught up in their own personal struggles; adding a layer poignancy and almost a certain “humanity” mythos to their cinematic character build (acting as a counterpart to the real-life person the films are trying to depict). Such projects include various events and or figures throughout history such as South African President Nelson Mandela in Invictus, U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle in American Sniper, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar, pilot Chesley Sullenberger in Sully, to the bravery of trio of friends in The 15:17 to Paris, and a drug courier war veteran Earl Stone (based on the real-life person Leo Sharp) in The Mule. Now, director Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros Pictures prepare to release the next “based on a true story” biographical drama with the movie Richard Jewell. Does the film find its cinematic voice or does sway too much in the melodrama arena; mudding its true-life narrative?

THE STORY


As a simple and rotund man with dreams of working as a law enforcement officer, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) isn’t doing quite well with employment opportunities, recently fired from as a campus security gig at a local college in Atlanta for being overzealous with his position. Taking a basic monitoring position at Centennial Park during the celebration of the 1996 Summer Olympics, Richard tries to promote his competence around the posted police officers, receiving a sudden and unexpected test of his duty when he discovers a backpack containing pipe bombs near a media tower. When the device explodes, Richard is initially hailed as a hero for his bravery, but soon the FBI, including Agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and Agent Dan Bennett (Ian Gomez) identify him as the prime suspect. With the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) thrilled for a juicy tale and the pressure to arrest Richard (for her own fame), the simple man turns to lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) for legal aid, unsure what’s exactly happening to his life. As the FBI sneakily try to find and coerce something to help convict Richard, the security hero is left befuddled, trying to comfort his mother, Bobi Jewell (Kathy Bates), as the public opinions and media coverage turns against him.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like what I said in some of my previous review posts of his movies, Clint Eastwood has certain become a well-known name in the current age of Hollywood. Not just for his earlier acting career, but for his directorial feature films as well; garnishing a talented reputation with his cinematic storytelling, especially since a lot of his movies showcase bravery, patriotism, and a genuine act of poignancy (again, caught in the struggle between what’s right and what the world deems it to be). However, I do have to admit that Eastwood is slipping a little bit. While he had created several recent Oscar-worthy / crowd pleasing movies like American Sniper and Sully, his two 2018 releases The 15:17 to Paris and The Mule were less-than mediocre, with the former being considered by many (including myself) as one of the worst films of the year. That’s not to say that Eastwood’s intent is in the right place, but rather his craftmanship of cinematic storytelling has faded slightly….at least in my opinion.

Hoping to try to bounce back from his 2018 releases, Eastwood is back with the film Richard Jewell, which is set to focus on the real-life person of Richard Jewell as well as the primary focus of this movie review post. As stated, Eastwood’s two 2018 movies weren’t exactly my personal favorites of his directorial films, so I was a little bit leery when it was announced that Eastwood would release a new film project towards the end of the 2019 year (i.e. Richard Jewell). I didn’t hear much about the movie’s production and / or anticipation hype for it until the film’s movie trailer was released a few months prior. After seeing the trailer, I do have to admit that I was quite curious to see the film as I really didn’t know much about the actual Richard Jewell and the events that made him known in the media. So, I went to see the movie during its opening weekend to see if Eastwood had redeemed himself or is it a “third times a charm” in his mediocre releases. What did I think of it? Well, it wasn’t exactly perfect, but it did indeed prove to be poignant character story as Richard Jewell showcases plenty of Eastwood’s aspects and inspirational tale of individual doing what is right and being accused wrongly. It may not be Eastwood’s best, but its much better than his two 2018 releases.

Much like Sully, Eastwood makes the film project the right amount of patriotism and heroism that’s called upon normal everyday people; presenting viewers with a narrative that showcases Richard has a simple man, who did the right thing, and ended up being subjected to heavy scrutiny from FBI and the media. Of course, like Eastwood’s past work, the film is rooted in reality; drawing upon its real-life events, which were detailed / documented in the Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner. This notion carries greatly in the feature’s overall presentation, portraying the rise and fall of Richard Jewell’s action and how it is held liable for the event that occurred in Centennial Park. This is actually the “core” of the feature’s heart, with Eastwood playing up the emotional beats that Richard (and his mom) have to go through when everyone around him accused him of a crime he didn’t commit. It also interesting to see Eastwood toil around how the FBI would try to “dupe” Richard’s simple / kind manner (towards authorities) and use that against him in a deceitful way.As I said, I really didn’t know much about the actual events that took place surrounding the 1996 Centennial Park bombing and Richard Jewell, so I was quite engrossed in the feature’s story, with Eastwood painting the “humanity” of the individual and this particular situation (no matter what age, sex, religion, or political stance) could happen to anyone.

Additionally, the film’s commentary message is also quite palpable, which encroaches upon the misused / misinformation of evidence and how the government and the media outlets were run with a lead; no matter how much it could wreck / destroy a person’s life. Eastwood keeps as a main narrative thread throughout much of the feature as it’s quite amazing to see someone’s life (again, a seemingly normal person) get completely destroyed by the FBI and the media from the perspective of the victim. Of course, with the movie set during the mid-90s, so not much information could be fully fleshed out or come to light as in today’s modern world of social media and surveillance technology. I mean…serious… if the same situation that happened to Richard Jewell happened to me, it would be really devastating (as I couldn’t have the strength to even walk out my door) let alone go on the internet (of which the social media outlets would be flooded with toxic comments and memes). In truth, Richard Jewell is a cautionary tale of those wrongfully accused, how careless the government can be, and how media will use “leak” info for a “headline” story. So, next time you read a new article or post about someone on Facebook or Twitter that the media is going after someone…. just stop and think and keep Richard Jewell’s story in the forefront of your mind. I guess what I’m saying is the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra.

In terms of presentation, Richard Jewell is a solid production. Naturally, there’s not a whole lot of vastness and large-scale production needed for a feature story like this, but Eastwood and his team keep the narrative smaller with the background settings (as well as the overall “look and feel”) to be pleasing to the eye and appropriate for the movie’s narrative (circa 1996 time era). Thus, the usually categories that I mention (i.e. production, set, costumes, cinematography, etc.) all meet the industry standard of a modern biographical motion picture production (i.e. nothing terrible, nothing spectacular, but something evenly keel). Also, the movie’s score, which was composed by Arturo Sandoval, helps build upon the dramatic moments throughout the movie; not just dynamic scenes, but also in the quieter character-building ones that ultimately proved to be the most effective.

There are a few problems that I had with Richard Jewell, which don’t completely derail the movie, but rather exacerbates the feature from being something truly gripping and enlightening. Perhaps the one that is the most prevalent is in the overall melodrama that the feature presents within its context. Much like Sully, Eastwood, along with the film script (penned by Bill Ray), the movie overextends itself by taking its time to unfold its story, which seems quite dramatic in a way of how its all presented. Some parts feel genuine and realistic, but other parts are a bit wonky and / or “over the top” as if Eastwood is trying to build “tension” in particular scenes of which there’s no need to be. Additionally, some sequences come off as ham-fisted and a bit cheesy; loosing the dramatic punch in the feature desperately wants to convey. This is most apparent in some of Eastwood past projects and Richard Jewell stumbles in the area in a few parts.

Also, there’s also moment where the movie drags and doesn’t get its point across in a timely manner. Clocking in at 129 minutes (two hours and nine minutes), Richard Jewell certainly has a sluggish pace, with Eastwood not really motivated to bring the feature some tightness in its various scenes. Coinciding with that, neither Eastwood’s direction nor Ray’s script fleshes out certain events or scenarios enough, especially in how the FBI tried to build a case against Richard Jewell. The movie talks about it a few things, but never truly exposes / examines what they “actually” have against him barring a few dialogue lines.

Another problem is the actual bomb that went off at Centennial Park during the Olympic Games circa 1996. It’s not exactly “suspenseful” or anything like that and the build up to is more interesting than the actually explosion and the immediate aftermath, which is quickly brushed away. Of course, the actual real-life event was horrible (killing one person and wounding over 110 nearby spectators), so I wasn’t expecting anything gruesome or gut-wrenching, but Eastwood just makes the bombing less impactful than it should’ve been. Thus, Eastwood lacks finesse to create suspense and dramatic poise within a sequence like this, which is a bit theatrically disappointing. Also, speaking of the 1996 bombing, the movie allows never explores (or even present much) case surrounding the actual bomber (i.e. Eric Rudolph). I do fully and completely understand that the movie is primarily about Jewell and not so much of Rudolph, but it just seems odd that the movie doesn’t cover it as much. There’s one scene (towards the end) that addresses it, but it just seems like a throwaway line.

Lastly, another problem (a minor one) with the movie is what happens at the end of the film, with the feature presenting several text lines that take place after the movie ends (right before the end credits begin to roll). While this is a usual standard for biographical dramas that are based on real-life events / people, there is something important that the actual Richard Jewell does after he was wrongful accused, which Eastwood never brings up during this portion of the movie. I discovered this after seeing the film by doing some research on the actual Richard Jewell and was quite surprised by it. It just seems quite odd that Eastwood won’t not include this as it’s something poignant and interesting. Wonder why they didn’t say it?

Looking beyond those criticisms, the cast in Richard Jewell is exceptional with several big-name acting talents being attached to the project and bringing their theatrical screen presence to the proceedings. Of course, that doesn’t mean that not every lead character is a recognizable household name, with actor Paul Walter Hauser being the perfect example in portraying the film’s namesake protagonist character of Richard Jewell. Known for his roles in Kingdom, Late Night, and BlacKkKlansman, Hauser seems like a perfect fit for the simple-minded character of Richard Jewell. In a nutshell, he’s mild-mannered individual (a somewhat slow intake and speech like Forrest Gump-ish character), who can be a bit overzealous in his enthusiasm, but is tried and true good person who wants to do the right thing. Hauser completely nails that persona and you just can’t not just simply love and feel for his character as the movie’s story progresses. Their a speech he delivers towards the end of the movie and Hauser masterfully executes that speech with great and effective ease. While earlier developments of Richard Jewell had actor Jonah Hill playing the title character, I really couldn’t see Hill in the role with Hauser giving probably the best performance of his career in the character.

Of the supporting players in the movie, actress Kathy Bates and actor Sam Rockwell offer up their theatrical expertise for some of the more poignant / heartfelt moments of the feature as Richard’s mom Barbara “Bobi” Jewell and Richard’s lawyer Watson Bryant. Bates, known for her roles in Titanic, Blind Slide, and American Horror Story, is quite well as Bobi, who is very much like Richard a victim in the story. Like any mother out there, it would be devastating seeing your son’s life being ripped apart by the media (portraying him as a monster) of which is isn’t and having your household being searched and seized by the FBI. Bates displays these emotions beautifully and even gives powerful monologue speech scene; demonstrating her acting skills on fully display. It’s no wonder why she got nominated for this role in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Golden Globes. Likewise, Rockwell, known for his roles in Moon, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is equally memorable in the movie as Watson, who is quite the brash, hothead, and profane character you would expect from this talented actor. Rockwell has always been a capable and talented individual and does with again with his portrayal of Watson, who definitely produces the most laughs with his snappy dialogue and delivery of lines, but makes Watson endearing with his performance; carrying emotional weight as he fights for Richard’s injustice.

My only gripe with the cast is in the character of Kathy Scruggs, the new journalist who works for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and who ultimately writes the initial false info about Richard to the press, who is played by actress Olivia Wilde. From the moment she appears on the screen, the character is just so vividly exaggerated as the so-called “villain” of the story. She’s brash, arrogant, snobbish, and just downright unlikeable with no redeeming arc whatsoever. Plus, Wilde, known for her roles in Tron: Legacy, The Words, and Rush, just hams it up in a ridiculous manner. I do like Wilde as I think she’s a talented actress (and beautiful as well), but her portrayal of Scruggs in so outlandish and cartoonish that it definitely takes away from the realism in such a “over the top” way. It almost like Eastwood is going out of his way to show that Kathy Scruggs is bad. The same can be partial said for the character of Tom Shaw, one of the two FBI agents who go after Richard Jewell, who is played by actor Jon Hamm. While not as exaggerated and wildly “over the top” as Wilde’s Scruggs, the film goes to a measure length in making him another villain for the feature to loathe. Of course, Hamm, known for his roles in Mad Men, The Town, and Baby Driver, is more equipped to handle a character portrayal like this; playing Shaw with a more subdued manner, but is still a bit thinly written as an overzealous caricature. Definitely a more well-round build could’ve been added to his both characters. Everyone loves a good villain, but not a flat and generic one.

Rounding out the cast is actor Ian Gomez (My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Cougar Town) as FBI agent Dan Bennett, actress Nina Arianda (Florence Foster Jenkins and Midnight in Paris) as Watson’s secretary Nadya, actor Dylan Kussman (Dead Poets Society and Jack Reacher) as Bruce Hughes, and actor Mike Pniewski (The Good Fight and Madam Secretary) as Brandon Hamm, with whom all give solid character supporting roles in the feature.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Is Richard Jewell a hero or is a villain and uncovering truth to his story lies at the heart of the film Richard Jewell. Director Clint Eastwood latest project finds the narrative of everyday heroism and examines the rise and fall of that peculiar popularity as a character study and how the government / media can make a harmless act into something unthinkable. While the movie struggles with its pacing as well as some melodrama moments, the film finds its strength to its humanistic narrative, its commentary themes / message of bias opinions, and its solid and reliable cast. Personally, I liked this movie. It wasn’t as strong as some of Eastwood past film projects, but it proves to be much better than his previous last two movies (anything could be better than The 15: 17 to Paris). As I said, the story was touching and poignant and the character acting and was strong. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “recommended” as I’m sure many viewers out there would be interested in seeing (and sometimes hearing for the first time) of Richard Jewell’s story. In the end, Richard Jewell isn’t a perfect film, but its narrative is and relatively to everyone is something worth examining with the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” mantra, especially those in journalism and government positions.

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: December 13th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 17th, 2019

Richard Jewell  is 129 minutes long and is rated R for language including some sexual references and brief bloody images

5 comments

  • Solid flick, gets better around the bombing in my opinion. Can see serious buzz for Hauser and Bates, but man, there’s liberties and fabrications, and everything I’ve read on Scruggs is Eastwood taking the latter, really making a ton up about a character that didn’t necessarily exist. That always irks me, and does bring down the movie because her character along with Hamm’s to an extent never feels real.

  • I was transitioning from law enforcement into politics when this terrible terrorist act and subsequent freak show happened. The actions of law enforcement and the press both made a tragic event all the more tragic. The story of Richard Jewell will always be a stain on both that can never be removed.

    • Oh wow….interesting. As I said in my review, I was a teenager when in this happened (so I really didn’t pay much attention to the events). Still, Richard Jewell’s story is quite a cautionary one for journalism and law enforcement.

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