Movie review: Richard Jewell

Paul Walter Hauser

Richard JewellWhether or not I see a movie depends on a variety of factors. Some are obvious, such as available time and whether the premise is appealing to me. For the movie Richard Jewell, it was a combination of factors.

One was a person I respect who didn’t think it’d be worth seeing a drama by Clint Eastwood with a political ax to grind. I’ll get back to that. The other was a person who, when I mentioned it, made a factually incorrect statement. “Richard Jewell: he’s the guy who discovered the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, but it turned out he set it.”

I had a very visceral reaction: “NOOOOOOOOOO!!” It is correct that the security guard saved lives, and in doing so became an instant celebrity. But no, he was NOT the bomber. And the fact that someone I know well REMEMBERS him as the bomber is reason enough for the film to exist.

Here are the good things about Richard Jewell. The actor portraying the overweight cop wannabe who lives with his mother, is Paul Walter Hauser. I last saw him as one of the bumbling friends of Tonya Harding’s husband in I, Tonya. He’s very good here, even, as the title character with the most screen time, he only gets fifth billing.

Sam Rockwell plays Jewell’s lawyer and unlikely friend Watson Bryant. He is solid, as he was in Jojo Rabbit, Vice, Three Billboards, and The Way, Way Back. Kathy Bates’ Oscar nomination as Richard’s mom, Bobi, is understandable. Jon Hamm, as composite FBI agent Tom Shaw, reminded me that, in too many police procedurals, the cops glom onto the first suspect.

On the other hand

Now we get into the not-so-great parts. The real Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs was known as being flirty. But there was nothing that substantiated she actually traded sexual favors for news scoops. Olivia Wilde’s iteration does; this is not a flaw in the performance but of the storyline.

As to how politics may have shaped the film, David Edelstein’s review is titled “Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell Is Full of Rage and Spin.”

“The actual bomber, Eric Rudolph, a right-wing, anti-abortion homophobe whose killing spree would continue, is named only once, in passing, and his likely ties to Christian militias and white supremacists go unmentioned. (Rudolph, in prison for life, remains a hero in those circles.)”

Edelstein also points to villainizing the press in the person of the aforementioned Kathy Scruggs, who won’t sue, as she is now deceased. Also, Jewell had more than a lone lawyer, but the movie portrayal is far more David v Goliath.

The film Richard Jewell is compelling enough story on the screen, despite its flaws. Not surprising, its reaction from the general public on Rotten Tomatoes (96% positive) is far greater than with the critics (72% positive). My wife, daughter and I saw it at Albany’s Spectrum Theatre in mid-December.

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