Richard Jewell review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Richard Jewell echoes most of Clint Eastwood’s more mildly pleasing takes on American hero figures. While still a showcasing of the aged director’s stern style and strong direction, it also harbors a tone of the ultra-conservative within him. He proudly appeared in many commercials as touting his tale on Jewel to be the truth as a massive jab about the media. But he also despises the FBI in this picture so it’s just a mixed bag of cynicism with this guy.
At the very least, I can state that Eastwood’s take on Jewel feels honest in never placing him too high up on that pedestal. Paul Walter Hauser, coming off of his perfectly pudgy dunce role in I Tonya, gives a fantastic performance as the innocent and dumbfounded Richard Jewell. He believes himself to be a proud security guard that can uphold the law. Even when confined to Centennial Park, he still thinks of himself as important as that of a beat cop. He makes very stupid mistakes and is exceptionally pompous about his placement that it wouldn’t be surprising if the inspiration for Paul Blart came directly from such a figure.
While it’s easy to laugh and mock such a guy who dabbles in candy bars and oversteps his boundaries, it also makes his story all the more compelling. In 1996, he finally has the big break he’s been waiting for; a security threat. There’s a mysterious backpack placed in Centennial Park. Jewell believes it’s a bomb. He has evidence that it is a bomb. He then struggles to save as many people as he can by evacuating the area but only clears enough people so that only two are killed and 100 are injured.
In the aftermath, the public deems him a hero while the FBI wants him to take the fall for the event. A profile is matched up with Jewell to stage him as a struggling white male trying to prove himself as more than the loser security guard. A media frenzy begins as the media starts reporting on a possible story of Richard Jewell being the mastermind behind the bombing incident. It’s ultimately a lack of evidence that leads to Jewell not being found guilty at a trial and in the evitable arrest of the true culprit.
The picture is a troubling one because while it paints the Jewell family with all their innocence and warts, it paints far more warts on those being sought to be vilified in such a story. This is pretty par for the course of biopics but mostly within the realm of Eastwood biopics in particular. One figure that comes off as exceptionally tarnished is Atlanta reporter Kathy Scruggs, showcased as being more of a sexual temptress in her reporting on digging up dirt about Jewell. Aside from merely showcasing a cartoonish vision of journalism, her hiring paper of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has since denounced the film for its portrayal of their late reporter. While there’s a lot to go on to plump Jewell’s story with idiocy, there’s little to go on to believe that Scruggs was someone who grabbed her breasts when trying to stress her journalistic skills.
Richard Jewell simultaneously does what Eastwood does best and worst at in his stories about American heroes. There’s some fine acting we’ve come to expect from the talents he assembles in the roles of the protagonists but also a lot of that sneering at others he despises. At least within Richard Jewell that smugness about everyone who isn’t deemed a patriot is given a lessened directness amid its staging, unlike last year’s The Mule where Eastwood seems to play a sexist, racist, homophobic, and smartphone-hating codger that may or may not be a character, given how he ALWAYS plays this character in his own films. Jewell hides enough behind the story of the man rather than directly condemning that everyone who doesn’t share his views should get off his lawn.