Richard Jewell, the true story of a security officer wrongly accused of the Centennial Park bombing in 1996, is now out on physical media. Timeless in its themes of media carelessness and deceptive police procedures, the film proves that Clint Eastwood cannot slow down with age. With each turn in the Director’s chair, all of us ask ourselves, with bated breath, “Is this it? Will this be Clint’s last go-around?”
If it is, he went out with a very competent offering in Richard Jewell. Don’t let your passion die and retire, folks. Age is just a number. (I’m looking at you, Tarantino)
Anyway, the movie’s greatest strength is in its performances. Paul Walter Hauser plays an incredibly believable soft mama’s boy-type as Richard Jewell himself. His mannerisms are absolutely on-point: lack of eye contact, soft voice, being sycophantic to authority, and also in over his head. Kathy Bates outshines everybody here, easily. Her press conference scene (“My son is innocent”) is the film’s standout moment, which is why it dominated every trailer that was released. It’s also the reason Bates got the Oscar nomination. Should she have won it over Lauren Dern? Well, I suppose that’s irrelevant now. What matters is Bates certainly earned her place at the award show. She was simply fantastic as Jewell’s mother.
Sam Rockwell delievers a solid performance as the lawyer with a backbone and quick wit. His main function in the story is being Richard’s opposite and the impetus for his development. Richard is initially very submissive to authority, which is an admirable trait to have. However, he was unwittingly acting against his own interest. For instance, a couple scenes showed federal agents trying to manipulate Richard into “confessing” to the bombing. One of the movie’s flaws is its blatant depiction of Richard as a doofus, going so far as to ignore his lawyer’s advice because…well, reasons.
Regardless of that, there’s a solid story to be found in the screenplay: a weak man with good intentions being at the mercy of the media and the federal government, and how he learns that submissiveness to authority isn’t always the right way to go. The themes are very well-characterized thanks to the movie’s great casting. Olivia Wilde represents the flashiness of today’s media and its eagerness for attention (her character is, for all intents and purposes, a whore). Jon Hamm characterizes authority that acts against the well-being of those he comes into contact with. Like I said, the casting serves as another strength.
Unfortunately, the film is sometimes too eager to be a documentary of the bombing. Some scenes and dialogue come across as forced (case in point, the final scene where Rockwell’s character informs Richard about Eric Rudolph, the real bomber). My philosophy is this: let films be films and let documentaries be documentaries. People watch films for the story and to learn something they can apply to their own lives: a lesson, that is. Let us take history lessons some other time. Still a worthy watch.