Review: Richard Jewell (2019)

Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Billy Ray
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images
Release Dates: 12/13/19 (Wide Theatrical); 3/3/20 (Disc/Streaming)
Where to Watch: HBO Now
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

Clint Eastwood’s latest, the biopic Richard Jewell, is a powerful, must-see film that explores what it means to be a hero. Real-life heroes don’t wear capes, and usually they don’t look like movie stars. Richard Jewell is centered on a young man who just wants to work in law enforcement — he’s all about helping people, and he occasionally comes off as gruff and mean, but it is only because he cares so deeply about doing the right thing.

Richard nabs a temporary gig as a security guard at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. One night, while keeping watch at a concert, he notices a suspicious package; the other security guards aren’t worried, but Richard isn’t taking any chances. And, because he calls it in and works hard to get the audience as far away from the blast radius as possible, he saves many lives. He is initially deemed a hero, and receives numerous interviews, pats on the back, and the like.

But, then, the FBI starts suspecting that Richard is the bomber, even though there is no real evidence; the media get in on it, which makes things extremely difficult for Richard and his mom (Kathy Bates), with whom he lives. The situation gets increasingly worse for poor Richard, who enlists the aid of his former boss/attorney (Sam Rockwell). No one could be more innocent than Richard, and yet he unfairly becomes the epicenter of this investigation.

Eastwood’s direction is sharp and assured, as is most of his work. Age clearly hasn’t slowed him down. Bates is heartbreakingly real as Richard’s concerned mother, who, in one incredible scene, pleads for her son to be released from this nightmare. Sam Rockwell is great as Richard’s no-nonsense yet kind-hearted lawyer. Jon Hamm is perfectly fine as the FBI agent who is convinced that Richard is guilty, although it is easy to despise him and the other FBI agents, who are made to be the real villains here. Olivia Wilde does the best she can as the journalist who leaks the news about the FBI’s investigation of Richard, although I can see why others have criticized the film’s use of seduction techniques to get information. That was unnecessary, and probably untrue. Truth be told, the scenes that show the FBI and media’s side(s) of the story are not nearly as engaging as the rest of it.

As Richard, the unlikely hero, Paul Walter Hauser (the break-out star of I, Tonya and BlackKlansmann) is astounding. Hauser provides Richard with a plethora of authenticity, humanity, and warmth. Even when he’s not saying a word, or saying very little, his face speaks volumes. I wish he had been included in the awards conversation along with Bates, who deservingly received a Supporting Actress nomination.

B+

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