Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Film Review: Richard Jewell


After a bomb detonates at the 1996 Olympic Games, the FBI tries to pin the blame on the one man who saved the day in director Clint Eastwood's simmering character study, Richard Jewell

Eastwood has spent the better of past of the last decade occupying himself with stories that unpack varying shades of the American 'hero' myth; from Presidents (in J Edgar) and soldiers (American Sniper) to everyday heroes like 'Sully' Sullenberger (in Sully). 

His latest, Richard Jewell, continues this trend, and has more in common with Sully – both thematically and stylistically – in that it centres on the true tale of a man first hailed as a hero who is later picked apart by the media and wrongfully demonised.

The titular character in this case is not an airline pilot, but a security guard; played by Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell is an unassuming former policeman who, during a concert at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, discovers a bomb underneath a bench. After he alerts police and sounds the alarm, the bomb detonates – but thanks to Richard's swift actions, the death toll and damage is dramatically decreased.

In the aftermath of the incident, Richard is paraded around as a hero – he appears on CNN and even scores a book deal. But behind the scenes, FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) decides Richard is the culprit, and soon the media – including sketchy journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) – catches wind of the story. It isn't long before Richard's name is being dragged through the mud, and so begins a challenging 'trial by media' fuelled by America's insatiable appetite for sordid scandal.

The film's first act is disjointed, as it skips and jumps through milestones in Jewell's life that may circle back to become important later – it's not easy to know just how much time this part of the film covers, so from the off the audience is racing to catch up.

That said, once the tense bomb set piece is underway and the film's thrust comes into focus, Eastwood's steady hand behind the camera is plain to see. This is a guy who knows how to transform the mundane into something compelling, as evidenced by this film's second act.

As the media starts to turn on Jewell, and we see his faith in authority and certain institutions start to evaporate, the film narrows in on how this one man's internal struggle can be extrapolated and exemplify broader issues in America then and now.

Hauser is terrific in the lead role as this humble hero who finds himself under attack. Sam Rockwell is similarly effective as Jewell's sharp-as-a-tack attorney. Hamm and Wilde find themselves lumped with the short straws; the former doesn't grow or change in the slightest, while the latter's key part in this story is cast aside and forgotten about come the end.

The Verdict: 6/10


Eastwood's autumn career continues to pay homage to heroes big and small, and while Richard Jewell doesn't quite match up to 2016's Sully, it does make for an interesting look at the personal cost of getting caught in a media frenzy.

Richard Jewell is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. That's about where I landed on it too. Some promising ideas and good performances, but it's not a film that has stuck with me.

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