Richard Jewell is a 2019 film depicting real-world events around the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, from the point of view of Richard Jewell.
Jewell was the security guard who found the bomb and became the unfortunate target of the FBI’s subsequent investigation.
The film is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Paul Walter Hauser in the central role, along with an A-list supporting cast of Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates and others.
Not knowing much about the actual story going into this film, I can speak to how it tells his story to those who haven’t heard it: very well, with a few hiccups.
If you don’t know the real-world tale, it takes a bit of time to become invested in Jewell – or even to like him. Part of that is the occasionally clunky dialogue, but it’s also something else. Something that I quite liked about the movie.
My first and biggest praise, is that Jewell is a complicated character. Long before the FBI brings his failed police career and desire to be a hero against him, the movie shows you those things.
It shows you that there might be a good reason he was let go from the police force and that his over-eagerness pushed some people the wrong way. He’s not just a real-world hero, he’s a complicated real-world person.
My second praise is the look of the film. Eastwood is one of our most prolific Hollywood icons, starting his career as a stoic cowboy in front of the camera and moving, later in life, to winning multiple Academy Awards for his work behind it.
Richard Jewell isn’t particularly brave or experimental with its cinematography, it’s just good. It’s just well done, and the refined work of an expert who doesn’t need to prove anything to himself. Every scene is lit and paced and framed beautifully.
Yves Bélanger, his cinematographer on this film also deserves credit for this.
Two gloomy notes hurt my overall impression of this film. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is the sometimes clunky dialogue. Richard Jewell will sometimes rely on cliches to express its characters’ feelings and is unnatural when doing so. Tom Shaw, the lead FBI agent over Jewell’s case, at one point painfully says “I just feel like I’m meant for so much more.” For a movie with such a grounded story (real life, in fact) cliches like that are out-of-place.
But the dialogue problem is only occasional and doesn’t hold the excellent cast back very much.
The performances throughout are spot on, and quite moving. Rockwell as Jewell’s lawyer and Bates as his mother, particularly stand out.
The second issue that haunts this movie had a bigger effect on the discourse around it than it did my personal enjoyment of the film, but it is worth mentioning.
Wilde’s character, real-life reporter Kathy Scruggs, is shown in one scene to exchange certain favors for information on a story from an FBI agent. The reason this caused such a ruckus is that there is little evidence to suggest she ever did that.
Personally, I rarely mind when films distort real events and characters to suit the story. However, given that one of the main themes of this movie is “it was bad that reporters reported something without confirming the facts,” some audiences felt it hurt the integrity of the story being told.
Perhaps it is best to always assume a “fact vs. fiction” article is necessary reading if you’re interested enough in a movie’s historical context.
That brings me to one other positive about Richard Jewell – it’s an important story.
It is a story about the potential dangers of the media, the justice system and personal biases and profiling.
The story of an innocent man accused as much by the media and the public as by the FBI is, sadly, more relevant today than ever before.
I know I just got done complaining about cliches, but, well, the internet has made things worse. At least, in regards to public presumption of guilt until proven innocent.
Of course, sometimes the internet can be nice, too.
Richard Jewell is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and all of HBO’s streaming platforms currently. So that’s one nice thing; you can watch this movie on the internet.
I give Richard Jewell an A-.