Richard Jewell

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Richard Jewell
dir Clint Eastwood
scr Billy Ray
prd Clint Eastwood, Tim Moore, Jessica Meier, Kevin Misher, Leonardo DiCaprio
with Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez, Alan Heckner, Niko Nicotera, Charles Green, David de Vries, Desmond Phillips
release US 13.Dec.19,
UK 31.Jan.20
19/US Warners 2h09

hamm wilde arianda
london film fest

rockwell, bates and hauser
Deceptively straightforward, this film's earthy approach requires a lot of skill, as the cast and crew need to be effortlessly in sync. And this is one of Clint Eastwood's strengths as a producer-director, especially when working with a script as astute as Billy Ray's is here. Recounting a true story with honesty, depth and a proper sense of relevance, this is a quiet gem.
Overeager 33-year-old Richard (Hauser) gets a security job at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is called a hero after clearing a crowd away before a suspicious rucksack horrifically explodes. But FBI Agent Shaw (Hamm) thinks he fits the loner profile: a wannabe hero-cop who lives with his mom Bobi (Bates). And when reporter Kathy (Wilde) learns that Richard is a suspect, she writes a front-page story that goes viral, painting him as the villain. Except that the FBI doesn't have a case. And this is what his lawyer Watson (Rockwell) sets out to prove.
The script follows various characters, digging beneath the surface. Richard considers himself law enforcement, so is vulnerable by agents who decide he must to be guilty. So Watson's main job is to coax Richard's outrage to the surface. Bobi can't understand this attack on her gentle-giant son, and she begins to find her own voice too. These things happen gradually, with an authentic sense of injustice as officials disregard the truth and the media manipulates public opinion.

Hauser delivers a star-making performance as a man ridiculed or ignored due to his awkwardly over-earnest manner. Hauser reveals a mixture of insecurities and steeliness that adds weight to his quirks rather than explaining them away. His interaction is particularly strong with Rockwell and Bates, who deliver terrific performances that quietly steal scenes from each other. And while Hamm plays it remarkably straight as the bullheaded investigator, Wilde has more fun as the flagrantly morality-free reporter who learns her lesson (the film's one false note).

This story has extra resonance in today's media environment, and it's also a refreshingly non-jingoistic exploration of heroism. Richard saved hundreds of lives, then as he's derailed by a cacophony of public accusation, he remains true to himself, never doubting who he is. Had the FBI railroaded him to a conviction, his story would have been very different (and perhaps even more common). So he should be celebrated, and his experience needs to be remembered in a world full of fake news.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Dec.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall