Richard Jewell

 

starstarstarstar

 


One man's tragic story illustrates how easily press and media can be sources of injustice.

 

Richard Jewell

Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser

 

Clint Eastwood's direction of this latest film of his is a shade pedestrian, but he can readily be forgiven for that since he is now all of 89 years old. If there is a reason to criticise his work here that is due to the fact that his standing as both producer and director surely means that he could have taken a strong line with his writer Billy Ray and insisted on some alterations to the screenplay. I say that not because Richard Jewell is a bad film but because I believe that it had the potential to be a great one and might have been just that with some rewriting. However, the acting is so good and the story so compelling that the film most certainly deserves to be seen despite any weaknesses.

 

The special merit of Richard Jewell lies in the fact that it vividly explores a situation far from uncommon but which has nevertheless rarely been made central to a film and certainly not in a way that makes the viewer so aware of what it must be like to be the people involved. I refer here to the position of persons unjustly suspected of a crime who then become the subject of media attention to such an extent that, regardless of the absence of any proof of guilt, their lives are upturned. The story of Richard Jewell illustrates this perfectly. At the time of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 he was a security guard at the event who found himself hailed as a hero for having spotted a bomb planted there and for his efforts in warning those nearby whose lives were in danger. But then within days the press disclosed that the FBI were treating him as their prime suspect bearing in mind a comparable case in which the criminal concerned had claimed to have been the one who gave the alert.

 

Eastwood's film makes us feel how awful it must have been to be in Jewell's shoes and Paul Walter Hauser as the man himself and Kathy Bates as his mother, Barbara, give particularly strong performances. But, when it comes to Jon Hamm playing federal agent Tom Shaw, one finds a role that lacks any real sense of individuality in the writing. More seriously still, the screenplay is even less persuasive in its unnuanced portrait of the reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). Richard Jewell carries the familiar acknowledgement that although based on true facts it has been dramatised freely. However, in spite of that, the fact that Scruggs (now deceased) is portrayed as seducing Shaw to get the story of how Jewell had become a suspect has led to accusations that the film maligns her memory. Given the general disclaimer, that may or may not be thought to be fair comment, but in any case the role seems exaggerated and therefore rather unreal. Jewell himself, a rather oddball character who when working in various security jobs had always aspired to being seen as a man upholding law enforcement, is naturally and properly portrayed as a victim, but it is done in such a way that it leads to Kathy Scruggs, his would-be nemesis, emerging as the film's larger than life villainess - and that's so despite a late change of attitude which itself feels unlikely as presented here.

 

If these two characterisations required further work, so also do the film's opening scenes which, starting in 1986, offer a series of bits and pieces including Jewell's first contact with a lawyer (Sam Rockwell) who will later play an important role in his life. These early episodes are not irrelevant but they don't build and would have worked much better as flashbacks following a gripping opening linked to some indication of how events at the Olympics would change Jewell's life. Even so, these weak elements do not prevent Richard Jewell from coming across as a properly disturbing work, one all the more relevant in an age when press and media can create such potent pressures in a manner that is totally unjust.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser, Charles Green, Mike Pniewski, Ian Gomez, Nina Arianda.

 

Dir Clint Eastwood, Pro Tim Moore, Jessica Meier, Kevin Misher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Jonah Hill and
Clint Eastwood, Screenplay Billy Ray, based on an article by Marie Brenner and the book The Suspect by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen, Ph Yves BĂ©langer, Pro Des Kevin Ishioka, Ed Joel Cox, Music Arturo Sandoval, Costumes Deborah Hopper.

 

Warner Bros. Pictures/Malpaso/Appian Way/Misher Films/75 Year Plan-Warner Bros.
131 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 31 January 2020. Cert. 15.