DIRECTOR: clint eastwood (unforgiven, million dollar baby)
STARRING: paul walter hauser, kathy bates, sam rockwell and olivia wilde
REVIEWER: purdie picot
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, security guard Richard Jewell discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench in Centennial Park. With little time to spare, he helps to evacuate the area until the incendiary device inside the bag explodes. Hailed as a hero who saved lives, Jewell's own life starts to unravel when the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing.
During the 1996 Atlantic Olympic Games there was a bombing. In the middle of celebration in Centennial Park, a backpack was placed under a bench with a pipe bomb inside. Due to his quick thinking and action a security guard, Richard Jewell saved lives, by bringing attention to authorities and pushing back the crowd. He was hailed a hero, until the FBI and the media needed a scapegoat.
Richard Jewell is a story of what happens when a demand for an assailant is so great, that the truth is harder to uncover. It’s about how the media and the FBI became like a dog with a bone, and hounded a man to turn him into the bomber they were looking for. The timing of this tale seems to be significant, with all the ‘fake news’ that floats around, as well as social media witch hunts, the story of Richard Jewell and the torment he went through is a cautionary tale. It would be so easy to repeat this mistake, but the impact it would be today would be so much worse compared to the mid-1990s technology.
The hunt for the killer stationed media and FBI around Jewell 24/7, unable to escape and just trying to comply, it is deeply stressful. Then you have his mother, Bobi, who wants the best for him, but is also thrust into the spotlight. Kathy Bates as Bobi is fantastic, her unconditional love for her son, the attempts at staying strong under pressure, the tears in her eyes. Her performance really drove the emotional impact of the film.
Eastwood has taken some liberties with the story, just some minor elements to fill in holes of the original story that the book/interviews have left. It feels a little forced, and pulls the film away from that gritty real life biography to a more well-written drama. However, the vast majority of the film had my heart sunk low, and I was on the edge of my seat. The long two hour run time seemed to be intimidating going in – how would the drama from one night be dragged out that long, but it really worked. The easy pacing going in, introducing Jewell and his behaviour patterns, led to the night of the bombing, then the following investigation. The pacing amped itself up, the tension grew. With a cast this fantastic though, there surely wouldn’t be many dull moments, they are all highly talented actors, Eastwood has put together a strong team to carry this film.
Something that bothered me, not in a negative way, but more-so of a cringe, was the police officer worship theme. The way Jewell behaved around officers (be FBI, or general cops) felt unfortunate, the wannabe cop felt sad. Which made me feel sorry for him, while also wanting to look away. I was uncomfortable about his naivety and his blind faith put into law enforcement, I sided with Watson (lawyer) who tried to encourage Jewell to stand up for himself and not be so compliant. But that wasn’t who Jewell was – and that is why this film has such an aura of authenticity around it. He didn’t change.
Richard Jewell is a gritty and raw, biographic drama.