Richard Jewell

At the Movies Blog

It’s strange that Clint Eastwood has been making so many movies about real people in the later part of his career. American Sniper (about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle), Sully, 15:17 to Paris, Hereafter, J. Edgar, and Jersey Boys. It’s a shame that only American Sniper was good, and Sully merely average. This film falls somewhere in between.

Jewell is played by Paul Walter Hauser, who cracked us all up as the quiet thug in I, Tonya. It’s nice to see him get a bigger piece of the (acting) pie. 

For those that don’t know, Richard Jewell was a security guard in Georgia, who discovered a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Since he was an overweight adult, living with his mom, and overly obsessed with law enforcement…he became a prime suspect (well, after a call to authorities from one of his former employers). 

The first 25 minutes of this movie were underwhelming and dull. We watch as Jewell works at a few different jobs and rocks out at a Kenny Rogers concert. He’s often picked on or made fun of by people he’s in charge of corralling (college students drinking in a dorm, teenagers throwing beer bottles at a concert).

Once the bomb explodes and the FBI starts investigating, things get interesting. That’s because we see some great acting by Kathy Bates, as Richard’s mother. It’s also fun to see the always great Sam Rockwell, as his underdog attorney. He got the call because he was one of the only guys at his old job that was nice to Jewell (and the only lawyer he knew). 

This movie turns bad again as we see Jon Hamm (who is perfect casting for a ruthless FBI agent) go a bit over-the-top with his performance and how the character was written.

What’s even worse is that the journalist character (Olivia Wilde) is not the least bit believable. We’re supposed to think she sleeps with all her sources, and needs to do this to get stories. It bothered me so much I researched it. Turns out, none of that stuff happened. So, it’s a bit odd that Eastwood, who I assume is mad that the media often makes up “fake news” or rolls with stories without facts (i.e. Brett Kavanaugh)…yet if he’s turning a female journalist into a slut for the convenience of making her a villain, how is that any different?  [side note: I wrote this review weeks ago after watching the film, and now I see this story is blowing up, with lawsuits even being threatened]

Jewell got to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame (literally), before the FBI agent leaks to the journalist, that Jewell is their main suspect.

At least screenwriter Billy Ray (and Eastwood), don’t shy away from showing us a few other things that might make the FBI (and society) suspect Jewell. He was arrested for impersonating an officer once, and he did get kicked off the police force.

Luckily the movie serves up some levity, mostly in the form of snarky comments from Jewell’s lawyer. In one scene, after telling his client not to talk…you laugh with each word that comes out of Jewell’s mouth. The fact that he cares for his client and can be charming, really makes this movie worth watching.

And even though the film is low-key, it’s rather interesting to see some of the tactics the FBI employed. In the trailer, you see Jewell repeating the phrase on the phone, about planting the bomb that will explode. You wonder what that’s all about, and it’s bizarre to see how that even transpired (and it actually happened).

There’s a great edit where we see Michael Johnson running in the Olympics, and breaking a record, while a timer is used to see if Jewell could’ve made it to the pay phone where the call to the FBI was made.

There’s a great fight scene in the kitchen that’s rather powerful. And the ending has some interesting details (although you’ll have to Google to see what kind of settlements Jewell got from the various parties involved in smearing his name).

For a movie that’s receiving a lot of buzz this awards season, I was expecting more. Yet it’s a serviceable film.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

Movie Fun Fact: Jonah Hill was one of the producers; he was originally attached to play Jewell.

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