This 2019 American biographical drama, based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner, is produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. It stars Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde.
34-year-old Richard Jewell (Hauser), a life-long law enforcement aficionado, lives with his mother Bobi (Bates) and works in security for AT&T. His previous work as a Piedmonst College security guard ended when he was fired for acting outside of his jurisdiction.
During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Jewell is based at Centennial Park. He spots a suspicious package and warns the police, moments before it explodes, killing one and injuring many more. Jewell is hailed a hero for his quick thinking.
However, FBI Agent Tom Shaw (Hamm) feels Jewell fits the profile of a suspect who planted the bomb for attention. When reporter Kathy Scruggs (Wilde) leaks the investigation, Jewell’s life is turned upside down. Only his friend, lawyer Watson Bryant (Rockwell), can defend his name as the law turns against him…
Following on from his last non-acting directorial effort of 2018s ‘The 15:17 To Paris’, Clint Eastwood returns to his now favoured genre of the true story. Clint has almost carved out a unique niche in Hollywood for over a decade of film that has focused on many life-changing events and moments otherwise passed the world by outside of the media.
From 2006s ‘Flags Of Our Fathers’ to 2016s ‘Sully: Miracle On The Hudson’, he has shown a fascination with the extraordinary people that these events shape. He gives them a voice and a platform to share a story often more intriguing, engaging and engrossing than fiction. Clint doesn’t disappoint with this story of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing, but more-so the story of the man whose life was turned upside down by it. But not by just the blast itself, but the law officials pinning him as their prime suspect.
Paul Walter Hauser, previously seen in works like ‘I, Tonya’ and ‘BlackKklansman’ – and soon to be seen in 2021s ‘Cruella – makes a true breakthrough lead performance. Physically, mentally and even verbally, Hauser embodies Richard Jewell to bring his character to life and adds so much to the once unknown security guard that it stands strong as one of the best breakthrough performances in recent years. Jewell is a man you can be frustrated with and even annoyed with due to his personality, but there’s nothing about him you can’t fail to admire and like when all is said and done. Hauser brings a perfect balance of both heart and humour to Jewell without making him eccentric or unbelievable. His delivery in certain scenes is both uplifting and heart-breaking in equal measure, something that Clint is a master of in directing for full emotive impact.
With a supporting cast including Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde, Hauser has many varied interactions with all, but all help add to the story and the character. Rockwell is on fine form as Watson Bryant, a lawyer who is wrestling with both his admiration for Jewell but also his legal standing in the face of crimes against him. Bates, up for a number of awards for this role as Bobi Jewell, is just as powerful as you’d expect seeing her first as a mother beaming with pride for her son, and the next having that shattered and sharing in the upset of seeing her one and only fall apart.
On the flip side to this, we have Jon Hamm as FBI Agent Tom Shaw and Olivia Wilde as journalist Kathy Scruggs. Shaw and Scruggs – sharing some controversial but not too far-fetched scenes together – target Jewell from the outset. One due to the fact he simply has traits and a isolated lifestyle that can stretch to previous bombers, and one due to the fact he lives with his mother, is overweight and has very simple morals. It’s these two who add the shameful reality of society when finding an easy target, and sticking with it. From uncomfortable interrogations at FBI headquarters to claustrophobic walks through swarms of reporters, Hamm and Wilde play their roles perfectly. Tough talking, scene stealing, imposing, full of character and impossible to ignore. Not as villains, but simply people doing their job through blurred vision that has enough power to destroy a person’s life and also sway public opinion with a headline.
It’s all based on fact and played in reality; Eastwood doesn’t make things big, bold or glam here, but keeps the narrative simple to follow and never lets you feel everything is ok until the credits roll. And even then you’ll be left with a heavy heart, however you look at it.
The perception of the law, public attitude and the media isn’t played out softly for audiences; one thing Eastwood never does. It’s laid out with plain facts and honest perceptions, and then we are left to make up our own minds regardless of the way the narrative plays out. Safe to say it makes for at times uncomfortable – yet empowering – watching, especially when Hauser and Rockwell unite together to make a really winning duo.
‘Richard Jewell’ may slip in through the net the barrage of awards contenders and big name movies that fall between December ’19 and January ’20, but should be seen as much as the others. Eastwood doesn’t direct for many reasons except to tell fascinating, unknown stories with quality talent on and off camera and this ranks as one of his best.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Billy Ray
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde