Richard Jewell: Terrific performances make Clint Eastwood movie work

Review: The new film’s poor returns at the box office are not easily explained

Paul Walter Hauser and Sam Rockwell Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell

Film Title: Richard Jewell

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde

Genre: Crime

Running Time: 129 min

Fri, Jan 31, 2020, 06:00

   

One never can tell with late Clint Eastwood. For every critical wow (The Mule), there’s an equal and opposite reactionary splat (15.17 to Paris). For every box office smash (American Sniper), there’s an underperforming Richard Jewell.

The new film’s poor returns aren’t easily explained. It’s a good fit for Eastwood, one feels.

In common with several late Eastwood joints, the script by Billy Ray (Volcano, Colour of Night), is ripped from the headlines, specifically Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell. And, following on from Sully, Richard Jewell takes a stand against the hounding of a Good Man.

As with the source material, the film depicts the July 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and its aftermath, as security guard Richard Jewell – an impressive Paul Walter Hauser, a scene-stealer in I, Tonya and BlacKkKlansmnan – finds a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and alerts authorities, only to later be wrongly accused of having placed the device himself.

Before you can mutter “Goddam Big Government” under your breath, Jewell’s persecution by the FBI is ramped up when a conniving journalist (Why Olivia Wilde, why?) seduces the details from a sleazy, barfly Fed (Jon Hamm). The film has, rightly, come under fire for its portrayal of Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, who died of a prescription drug overdose in 2001.

Unlike Eastwood’s Sully, wherein the hero pilot’s battles with authorities were grossly exaggerated for dramatic (and political) effect, Jewell’s struggles were genuine even if, in the intervening years, they’ve taken on a decidedly Trumpian dimension. As ever, Eastwood’s “shut up and point the camera” style of storytelling is bluntly effective and the film is powered along by three terrific performances from Hauser, Sam Rockwell, and an Oscar-nominated Kathy Bates.

Opens on January 31st