It is insane to think Clint Eastwood’s directing career has spanned close to half a century. In that time he has made some great movies (Million Dollar Baby) and some not so great (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but he has always been able to get strong performances out of great actors. With Richard Jewell all the good and bad that come from Eastwood’s trademark style is on display.
Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is an average joe working security jobs hoping to someday becoming a police officer. Though he has taken his position of authority a little too far at times he is a genuinely nice and caring guy. Thanks to his observations and quick thinking Jewell spots a bomb and helps minimize the carnage from a terror attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics. His heroics are quickly overshadowed when FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) begins to suspect him as the bomber and Atlanta journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) takes that information to the press. From there Jewell’s life along with his mother’s (Kathy Bates) gets turned upside down. With the help of an attorney and friend (Sam Rockwell) Jewell sets out to clear his name as the press and FBI smell blood in the water.
“I’m sorry the world has gone insane.”
Off the top, as you can see the cast is stacked with a lot of impressive talent. This does two major favors for the film. It allows for up and comer Hauser to take the lead while bigger named talent can help draw in the audience. And with great actors you can allow them to do their job and not worry about giving them direction. (We’ll get back to that) To that end most of the cast does a solid job.
Hauser does well showing Jewell as a man aspiring to something bigger while being an everyman. You can connect from the start and as the story progresses you’re with him for every up and down he faces. The big winner of the supporting cast is Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother Barbara. She takes her always amazing talent and delivers a top notch performance. Rockwell is running at a pretty standard speed, but the guy always brings it to even an average performance.
It’s unfortunate that both Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde are severely underused. Both are put into a corner where they’re presented as two dimensional characters at best. The controversy of how Kathy Scruggs is portrayed has been all over and I cannot deny there are problems. While some have called her portrayal of Scruggs, “A velociraptor with a notepad” I wouldn’t go that far, but the implications that she traded sex for tips is problematic. At least her character gets a sliver of redemption at the end unlike Agent Shaw. He’s a paranoia induced schemer looking to use the power of the U.S. government to prove his conspiracy theory. I’m surprised the costuming department didn’t have a tinfoil hat fitting for Hamm.
“I’m not defending, just explaining.”
The main issue that the film faces is Eastwood himself. He’s always been a workman filmmaker, but in recent years it has become more noticeable. There are times in the film where you wonder why a certain take for a performance was picked and have to assume that it was the best out of the four that were filmed. You can also feel the lack of subtly in some of the dialogue. It’s not like Eastwood has ever been known for that, but there are times when his ideas are like a bullhorn at an opera.
It is a shame that Paul Greengrass was initially attached to this film and then passed. Had he been in the driver’s seat I feel that Richard Jewell would’ve been a great film rather than a good one.
Overall Score 3/5