Richard Jewell, the true story of a security officer wrongly accused of the Centennial Park bombing in 1996, offers a decent cinematic experience. Despite its solid foundation, it falls just short of being a classic.

Timeless in its themes of the media’s “jump-the-gun” nature and the police’s deceptive procedures, the film proves that Clint Eastwood, at age 90, has plenty of rocket fuel left. With each turn in the Director’s seat, all of us ask ourselves, with bated breath, “Is this it? Will this be Clint’s last go-around?”

Richard Jewell cast photo with Clint Eastwood, Paul Rutger Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, and Kathy Bates.
L-R Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Clint Eastwood, Paul Rutger Hauser, and Sam Rockwell. Chris Pizzello. Associated Press.

Ah! The suspense is killing us!

If this shall be Clint’s last, he went out with a bang with Richard Jewell. Don’t just let your passion die and retire, folks. Age is just a number.

(I’m looking at you, Tarantino. Make Movie #11, dammit.)

A Jewel of a Performance

Richard

Anyway, Richard Jewell’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.

Bobi

Kathy Bates outshines everybody here as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother. 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 Kathy 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.

A scene in the movie Richard Jewell. After the press conference scene where Bobi breaks down in her son's arms.
L-R Watson, Bobi, and Richard. Richard Jewell. Warner Bros. Pictures.

Watson

Sam Rockwell delivers a solid performance as Watson Bryant, the lawyer with a steel backbone and quick wit. His main function in the story is being Richard’s opposite and the impetus for his character development. His father figure, essentially.

Honest Man in a Dishonest World

The film’s story is a message all of us can take to heart. Richard is initially submissive to authority, which is…sort of an admirable trait to have.

However, Richard was unwittingly acting against his own interest. Being eager to please can leave you susceptible to manipulation and exploitation. For instance, a few scenes showed federal agents trying to manipulate Richard into “confessing” to the bombing.

A scene in the movie, Richard Jewell. Richard is being manipulated by two federal agents into confessing to the Centennial Park bombing.
CLAIRE FOLGER. WARNER BROS. PICTURES.

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. We need to make him look stupid, duh!

Regardless of that, there’s a solid story to be found in the screenplay: a weak man, with good intentions, finds himself at the media’s mercy and the federal government’s machinations. He learns that submitting to authority isn’t always the right way to go.

Additional Casting

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).

In fairness to Kathy Scruggs, her behavior in real-life didn’t match that of her on-screen counterpart (she never exchanged sexual favors for information from the authorities).

Scene from the movie Richard Jewell. Olivia Wilde is playing reporter Kathy Scruggs. She's in front of a row of pay phones.
Warner Bros. Pictures.

It’s important to understand that it’s not about mirroring the reality. It’s about using one character as a microcosm of a larger entity. Kathy Scruggs wasn’t a whore, but the media certainly is. 🤷‍♂️

Jon Hamm characterizes authority that acts against the well-being of those he comes into contact with. As I said, the casting serves as a great strength.

This Ain’t a Documentary!

Unfortunately, the film is sometimes too eager to be a documentary about 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.

The exchange comes across as extremely facile and out-of-place. Although, it was nice to see Richard finally become a cop, his lifelong dream. It showed his development finally came full circle (and telling the FBI agents to go f**k themselves was pretty satisfying).

The ending scene of the movie Richard Jewell. Richard became a police officer and his lawyer is visiting him.
Warner Bros. Pictures.

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.

Richard Jewell is a worthy watch, nonetheless.

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