Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez, David Shae
Written by: Billy Ray, based on an article by Marie Brenner
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images
Running Time: 129
Date: 12/13/2019

Richard Jewell (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Jewell' Case

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell is yet another sturdy, classical work from one of America's greatest filmmakers.

Based on a 1997 Vanity Fair story by Marie Brenner, the new work is remarkably similar to Eastwood's great 2016 film Sully, in that it's about heroism met, unfairly, with suspicion.

It's a complex look at what should have been a simple situation.

The movie begins in the early 1980s, when Richard (Paul Walter Hauser) works in an office, taking out the trash and re-stocking office supplies. Lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) befriends him after Richard thoughtfully fills his drawer with Snickers bars.

Richard dreams of becoming a police officer, but by 1996, he's merely employed as a security guard in Atlanta, during the Summer Olympics. At a concert in Centennial Olympic Park, Richard spots a suspicious backpack (containing a pipe bomb), and helps clear the area, saving countless lives.

An FBI investigative team, led by Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), lacking any leads, decides that Richard is their prime suspect. Apparently, he fits a certain profile of criminals that plant bombs and then pretend to find them.

Perhaps worse, Shaw has drinks in a bar with a fiery Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), and spills the beans. She breaks the story in the morning news, and suddenly Richard goes from being a hero to a pariah.

His mother (Kathy Bates), who idolizes TV newsman Tom Brokaw, is shocked and heartbroken when even her hero talks badly about her son.

So Richard calls up Watson Bryant, who is now struggling with his own new law firm, for help. And the fight begins to clear his name.

Compared to Sully, the 129-minute Richard Jewell feels a little chunkier around the edges. Sully was a tight, streamlined 96 minutes, beginning with a gripping aerial accident and emergency landing, and relying on the considerable charisma of star Tom Hanks throughout.

The hero of Richard Jewell is a more difficult sell. Actor Hauser, who played a dim, shady redneck in I, Tonya and a racist in BlacKkKlansman, appears as an overweight hayseed with a mustache, perhaps a little pathetic and not too bright.

But Hauser is superb in the role, conveying the character's innate goodness and unflagging hope. It's easy to make fun of a man that lives with his mom, but it's harder to scoff when a man loves his mom as much as Richard does.

The movie's other masterstroke is Richard's friendship with Watson. By allowing Rockwell — a recent Oscar-winner for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — to exercise the full range of his shabby, wiry, quick-witted charm, and to emphasize his loyalty to Richard, is to shine a brighter light on the hero.

While Eastwood is a master of simple, understated mise-en-scene, and Richard Jewell is no exception to this rule, the movie's real gift lies in its casting and excellent performances.

Bates has already received a Golden Globe nomination for her strong work as the mother, touchingly dismayed at what's happening, but still making sure everyone's fed.

In addition to her, and Hauser and Rockwell, at the movie's heart, it's surprising that Hamm and Wilde are allowed to shine. Eastwood allows them enough screen time to make them flawed humans rather than sneering villains.

However, it's clear that the movie's portrayal of reckless reporting has pushed buttons among the journalism community, particularly those at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who are angered over the portrayal of Scruggs, who died in 2001.

They have threatened Warner Bros. and Eastwood with a defamation lawsuit, unless a statement is issued, "publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film's portrayal of events and characters," as well as a "prominent disclaimer" on the film, according to a letter sent by the paper's attorney Martin Singer.

Regardless of its disregard of the facts, Richard Jewell, as well as Sully, asks a simple question about human nature, wondering how we could possibly take a good thing and turn it into accusation and blame.

That's where Eastwood's greatness comes from; he makes simple films that yearn for simplicity in life, but he understands the complexities in-between.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release has a terrific video transfer, emphasizing Eastwood's favored shadowy cinematography, with hints of blues, greens, and silvers. The sound is outstanding (the rifle range sequence made my speakers jump). The extras are pretty skimpy: two short studio-produced featurettes that are heavy on clips from the film, but do feature brief interviews with Eastwood himself. "The Making of Richard Jewell" is about 7 minutes, and "The Real Story of Richard Jewell" runs just over six minutes (they are almost interchangeable). The set also includes a digital copy.

The controversy around this movie seemed to fade away as quickly as the movie itself did; perhaps the controversy was responsible for killing it, and perhaps not, but now that it's over, the movie is very much worth seeing. Like all movies based on true stories, it's heavily fictionalized, but it's well-told.

Movies Unlimtied