Richard Jewell (2019) ***

January 27th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Clint Eastwood | Wri: Marie Brenner | Cast: Sam Rockwell, Paul Walter Hauser, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates | US Drama 131′

Richard Jewell was an Atlanta security guard falsely accused of planting a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Clint Eastwood directs his latest ‘underdog’ story with sleek and workmanlike economy. Visually Richard Jewell is bland, but narratively straightforward, although some critics (who tend on the whole to be left-wing) may argue that Eastwood overlays the feature with his famous right-wing gaze.

Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell, a pleasantly portly figure who we first meet working as a janitor in a law firm, plying his lawyer boss (Sam Rockwell) with Snicker bars. Keen to get back into law enforcement with the police he is clearly doing his best to make a good impression and soon lands a job in security at the Centennial Olympic Park. A jovial and modest character he takes his job seriously and immediately calls a bomb expert when spotting a backpack under a park bench – although his colleagues accusing him of ‘crying wolf’. The bomb goes off as Jewell, the police and the FBI are clearing the area where Kenny Rogers has been entertaining a large crowd of merrymakers. Several people lose their lives and Jewell is named the hero of the day. But the tables are turned when the FBI decide to finger him as the lone-wolf bomber, taking him in for questioning. A nightmarish saga develops as Jewell and his homely mother – Kathy Bates plays a convincing Mrs Jewell who spends her time popping cakes in the oven to feed his paunch.

Eastwood does make us question Jewell’s innocence at first, but by the end of the investigation, Jewell seethes with a quietly affecting conviction as the former roly poly policeman whose life is put on hold and traumatised by the gross intrusion. The losers are the FBI, and of course the media. Kathy Scruggs, the brash journalist at the centre of the furore is also slated – but Wilde makes her glib and unlikeable, so no love lost there. But it’s due to her diligence – or over-zealousness – that Jewell suddenly becomes the villain of the piece, his status as a prime suspect is leaked to the press, Scruggs nabbing the story. After coming under intense scrutiny by the FBI, he is then defended by his former boss Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who was impressed by his Snicker habit, probity and upbeat disposition when they worked together. Jewell eventually gets off scot free due to a total lack of evidence.

Eastwood makes some salient points in this enjoyable moral tale that shows how democracy can work to the advantage of ordinary citizens, protecting them from the Police – as long as they can afford a good lawyer. Eastward also enforces his usual points about common decency and neighbourliness. Once an accuser becomes the accused – and this applies to false claims of all kinds: rape, robbery, stalking – society has clearly lost its way. MT




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