Richard Jewell (2019)

“People believe in the badge.”

Richard Jewell is, on the surface, a worthy true life telling about a lowly and ill-regarded man desperate to help all those near him with the hope of assuming some position of power, even if it be of the rent-a-cop variety. And while tonally inconsistent, flashing between undue accusations and clammy, heavy-handed drama, it’s still an intriguing film when the overwhelming and interrogating overhead rays of the unintentional limelight rain down on this portly protagonist, begging us to either incriminate or to absolve this every man of heinous criminal activity at the bat of an eye. Richard Jewell does well by forcing us to at least hear the two sides to this story. But what it shows of each side can be, at times, rather unforgivable.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) believes in the rule of law and that it should not be twisted or broken. He loses his job at a college for being overly aggressive with students drinking in the dorms. Come 1996, some 10 years later and following a terribly rushed opening, Richard’s now a security guard for hire, working the Atlanta Summer Olympics. He’s known to be a hassle for the official officers on duty, always trying to prove that he belongs in their ranks, which makes the build-up to his discovery of a military bag full of massive pipe bombs all the more questionable and unsettling. Maybe he did this as an act of recognition. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in our country’s history.

The anticipation before this literally explosive scene is well-edited, has great pacing, and further hightlights Hauser’s capability of capturing Jewell’s soft-spoken sincerity with just a few shouting bouts. But what’s so emblematic of this pivotal moment and of director Clint Eastwood’s most recent films in general is just how poorly the actual bomb sequence plays out. Poorly rendered CGI, uninspired camerawork, and anxious acting are all the products of a filmmaker who shoots as little as possible before moving on to the next take. A lot of it works, but most of it screams of material that’s been rushed instead of carefully considered. Richard Jewell is a serious film that doesn’t take the time or the money to make sure it’s biggest scene is worth taking seriously. The problems only stem from there.

Eastwood does get strong performances from his cast though, especially those in the inner circle. Hauser is heartbreaking as the loudmouthed simpleton. Kathy Bates gives an emotional monologue as Richard’s mother Bobi. And then there’s honest attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a mild-mannered man who wants to do right by people he believes to have been falsely accused of doing wrong. Those are the strongest parts of this creaky rocking chair of a picture. Having said that though, Richard Jewell paints a salacious portrait of the late reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) as a wanton writer practically to the point of bordering on cheap parody, and the overall narrative – casting blame on the newly conceived 24/7 news cycle’s media machine and a lazy depiction of stereotyped law enforcement – actually seems to be quite troublesome given today’s “fake news” climate. With Richard Jewell, Eastwood has made his most moderate film in years, yet outside the strength of the performances, it’s one of his most forgettable, frustrating entries to date. A film this rushed can never really come to any sort of a logical or fulfilling conclusion.

“I believe in protecting people.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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