[Review] ‘RICHARD JEWELL’ successfully puts Clint Eastwood back in true-story zone

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

RICHARD JEWELL

Rated R, 129 minutes.
Director:
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm

What a year it has been for film and television highlighting broken systems and public opinion. Already, there have been notable works in this area with documentaries such as The Confession Killer and Wrinkles the Clown. There are also a few more in the narrative pipeline with Bombshell and this week’s Richard Jewell.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Richard Jewell is a film based on the titular American security guard (a knockout Paul Walter Hauser of I, Tonya and BlacKkKlansman) who saved many lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

From that simple description, Eastwood’s latest may sound strikingly similar to his 2018 bio-drama, The 15:17 to Paris, about a trio of Americans who discovered a terrorist plot on a Paris-bound train. Instead of adding unnecessary story padding to introduce the act of terrorism, however, Richard Jewell has lessons to teach and tension to build. It’s as if Eastwood recognized some of his shortcomings as a filmmaker and worked hard to sharpen his tools for this new account. That’s not to say there aren’t any dull blades (because there’s one that cannot be missed), but for the most part, Eastwood crafts one of his finest achievements in years.

Eastwood has been producing films based on true stories for some time now, and there’s reason: He does well with it. Just look at Sully, a procedural drama about heroism, doubt and a community coming together.

Like SullyRichard Jewell centers on people doing their jobs, but with a hell of a lot more doubt smeared into the narrative. After Richard Jewell, a questionable character by his eccentric nature, saved thousands, he was believed to be the perpetrator. He was vilified by the press, who falsely reported that he was also the terrorist.

There will be some audiences who will question the factual points of the story. There have no doubt been some gray areas that were colored in without much research done, which is ironic considering the film is about exposing that sort of behavior. Attention has already been called to the character played by Olivia Wilde — a real-life Atlanta journalist who’s now deceased. At one point in the film, the character trades sex with a federal agent to get a scoop — a point that has been shot down by many, including Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Kevin Riley. It’s stirred up so much controversy that the newspaper wants Warner Bros. to state onscreen before the film about its dishonorable depiction of the journalist.

Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Paul Walter Hauser in RICHARD JEWELL. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.

Personally, I think filmmakers are allowed to take creative license with their stories. No true-story film is 100 percent accurate. It’s impossible because narratives need a beginning, middle and end with compelling characters. And sometimes, real people, despite their courageous acts, aren’t the right fit for the big screen and have to be altered. However, if those changes come off as lazy or sleazy, as they do in Richard Jewell, then of course it’s an issue. Wilde’s character infuriated me.

Fortunately, there’s so much around Wilde’s character that works remarkably well. Foremost, Hauser nails the part and shapes Richard Jewell as a complex human being who saved lives but also has his dark spots.

Early in the film, Richard is shown pushing a college student to the floor for testing his authority. He’s the kind of person whose heart is in the right place, but he often trips over his lack of awareness. You’ll find yourself wanting to grab Richard to say, “Dude, just stop,” a countless number of times. That’s when you know you have an engaging movie character.

Additionally, there are the relationships between Richard and his mother (Kathy Bates) and attorney (an excellent Sam Rockwell). Bates provides the film with more heart as a mother who will stop at nothing to prove her son’s innocence, while Rockwell is a no-nonsense kind of guy who drives up the humor.

Richard Jewell is a captivating experience. Like The Confession Killer, it accentuates the consequences of jumping to conclusions without evidence. Eastwood holds a mirror up to society and may drop it here and there, but the power of the performances and the search for innocence pack a heartwarming punch to make the film worthwhile.

Grade: B

RICHARD JEWELL opens nationwide on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.