Review: Richard Jewell

 

DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Billy Ray • DOP: Yves Bélanger • ED: Joel Cox • DES: Kevin Ishioka • PRO: Jennifer Davisson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Jonah Hill, Jessica Meier, Kevin Misher, Tim Moore • MUS: Arturo Sandoval • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Brandon Stanley, Ryan Boz

Richard Jewell (born Richard White) December 17, 1962, was an American security guard employed by AT&T at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Centennial Olympic Park was designed as the ‘town square’ for the Olympics and on the evening in question, thousands of people had gathered in the park for a concert. Sometime after midnight on July 27, Jewell located a green backpack, (later found to contain three pipe bombs packed with shrapnel), and he immediately alerted officers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They in turn, confirmed the contents and ordered an instant evacuation of the area. As Jewell and other security guards began clearing the park, the bomb exploded, fatally injuring Alice Hawthorne and wounding over a hundred other people. For three days, Jewell was touted as a hero when a media backlash occurred and he suddenly became the prime suspect. 

Director Clint Eastwood has mastered the style of anti-hero where a key character exists on the fringes of society and a spotlight is shone on their struggles with acceptance, irrespective of whether those efforts are active or passive. Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Gran Torino (2008), feature the main actor (in all cases played by Clint Eastwood), as a gruff and taciturn outcast. Unable, and more tellingly, unwilling to accede to a normal design for life, his characters live according to their own rules and invariably die by the same dicta. The character’s aim it appears, is not to surrender his sense of ‘being’ regardless of the distress it causes to the people he interacts with – they externalise their angst and ultimately find some modicum of introspection in their final moments. Contrast these roles with lead characters in Mystic River (2003) and Richard Jewell (2019) – they each have marginal differences in the style of anti-hero but the basic premise remains the same.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the titular role of Richard Jewell and Tim Robbins as Dave Boyle in Mystic River. Both have suffered trauma in various measures; both have endured the pitying glances of their more urbane peers and friends. Clint Eastwood creates a veneer of victimisation for Hauser in the role of Richard Jewell but he also maintains the lightest of directorial touches by maintaining sympathy firmly on the right side of dignity. Hauser is exceptionally well cast as Richard Jewell – in looks, he is frighteningly similar to the actual person– however, rather than eke pity for its own sake, Eastwood injects a level of pithy humour into the character and allows Jewell retain a sense of existence outside the parameters of peer influences. The only dissimilarity between the characters Eastwood (as actor) plays and that of Richard Jewell, is Jewell’s utter ignorance of his status as a marginalised buffoon. Continuity is preserved with regard to lead characters and Jewell steadfastly proceeds as an interloper in possession of an overt refusal to abide by societal norms – at no stage does Jewell pause and consider – rather, he is given instructions by figures of authority and follows those directives blindly and to the letter. Eastwood has total mastery over the character of Richard Jewell as likeable but stubborn and resistant to change in equal measure. Jewell applies literal meaning to all of his actions, which proves to be an issue as the story unfolds.  

Kathy Bates puts in an astonishing performance as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother. Eastwood is clever enough to allow audiences witness a number of similar personality traits between mother and son. It is key to understanding why Jewell was so obdurate in his views. Sam Rockwell plays the role of Watson Bryant, Jewell’s pushy, loud-mouthed lawyer. The only character that there has been some criticism of is that of Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) – Scruggs was a journalist for Atlanta-Journal Constitution and in the film is depicted as having offered sex to an FBI agent in exchange for information on Jewell. Scruggs was the journalist who first ran the story stating that Jewell was a suspect. The portrayal of Scruggs is thorny particularly given that Scruggs died of an accidental overdose in 2001 and is unable to defend her actions. Eastwood has been accused of continuing misogyny by perpetuating the myth that female journalists trade sex for scoops.   

That being said, this is a fine film – Eastwood truly delivers – resisting the urge to pluck at heartstrings and stopping well short of discriminating against Richard Jewell. The cast work well together with none overshadowing the other. Remove the problematic representation of Kathy Scruggs and Richard Jewell could well have become an Oscar contender.    

 

June Butler

130′ 45″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Richard Jewell  is released 31st January 2020

Richard Jewell – Official Website

 

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