Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Rated:  R

STARS: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
GENRE: Docudrama

There is no denying that Clint Eastwood is a master filmmaker, and in Richard Jewell he has crafted a riveting drama with clearly defined good guys and bad guys that will push all of your buttons. Clearly defined, that is, if you want to buy into Eastwood's right-eous vision of the world.

Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser)--as you may or may not recall--was the security guard who discovered a bomb in an abandoned backpack in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He alerted police on the premises and saved lives by helping to get people cleared away from the scene before the blast went off--resulting in two deaths and injuring over a hundred unsuspecting souls attending an outdoor concert. 

Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell then came under suspicion as a suspect in the bombing. He is portrayed as a dimwitted loose cannon, who had a habit of getting fired from his law enforcement and security guard jobs. Jon Hamm, as FBI agent Tom Shaw, leads a team of overzealous and unscrupulous investigators bent upon fingering Jewell as the culprit. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution breaks the story--and as we see so often today, another individual is convicted in the court of public opinion long before due process has run its course. Jewell was eventually cleared of any involvement in the bombing that was engineered by Eric Rudolph 

Outstanding turns from Hauser, who seems born for this role, and the reliably excellent Sam Rockwell as Jewell's feisty lawyer, make this as compelling a drama as you'll find. But the integrity of Clint Eastwood's art is compromised by his insistence on making a political statement in essentially everything he does. In this case it's an obvious and heavy-handed one--demonizing two of today's popular targets of the right (and that originates straight from the top of the McDonald's eating political food chain), the free press and the FBI. 

Eastwood saw his chance to hop on the bandwagon. He plays fast and loose with the truth, as in the portrayal of newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who broke the story about Jewell coming under suspicion, as being an amoral opportunist who would do whatever--including trading sexual favors to get a news scoop. Scruggs' former colleagues, family and friends reportedly were not contacted by the filmmakers to get the scoop on who she really was and what she was about. 

Eastwood apparently felt it was okay to besmirch a deceased person's reputation to serve his own agenda as tit-for-tat because of what happened to poor hapless Richard Jewell. But the film going public may be better equipped to smell a rat than Eastwood gives them credit for.

Richard Jewell is bombing at the box office.

Grade:  C -


As one of my unbendable rules, I never read reviews before seeing a film. I don't want any preprogrammed opinions sneaking into my thought processes. Alas, with Richard Jewel, Yahoo couldn't wait to plaster "worst box office opening in four generations of film-making" across my unsuspecting monitor. So I went in, ready to dump all kinds of vitriol on old Clint's latest offering.... How relieved I was not to have to do that to one of the all time great film-makers.

Richard Jewell was terrific. Engrossing. Brilliantly acted (I'll get to that later). And wrongly crucified by some, not all, film critics.

I get so (friggin') tired of people judging artistic endeavors by disagreeing politically. Just like I get pissed off with celebrities who use their public clout to endorse a political candidate. (Better they put their money where their mouth shouldn't be.) But I digress....

If Katy Bates doesn't get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for her role as Richard Jewell's mom—a hapless victim of the FBI's over zealous behavior—I will run naked down Del Mar's main thoroughfare. When Bates goes in front of the cameras, pleading for privacy and defending her son's innocence, it's cinematic magic. Pure and simple.

So what did I find fault with in this film? Very little. I wasn't bored. I didn't feel preached to. I know it was very unflattering to the press and the FBI but the story called for that. If I had to criticize anything it would be Jon Hamm's wooden performance. (And I loved him in "Mad Men.") Perhaps I should blame the screenwriter Billy Ray instead. No character deserves to be so one-dimensional.

As the movie ended, one man insisted on clapping. I wanted to join him but lost my nerve.

Grade: B+