Richard Jewell (****1/2) now more than ever

Richard Jewell – 2019

Director Clint Eastwood
Screenplay Billy Ray
Starring Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser

I barely remembered the name of Richard Jewell when I first saw the commercial for this film. I knew he was fat, lived with his mom, and was suspected of planting the bomb he helped people avoid in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I never found out if he was innocent or not. It didn’t make as big a splash in the press as the original story. I moved on and assumed justice was done.

Thankfully, writer Billy Ray and director Clint Eastwood didn’t forget. Through their telling of this true life story, the rest of us get to experience the torture that this real American hero and his dear mother suffered at the hands of an overzealous FBI and press in the months and years after the bombing. It’s just too bad that Jewell himself did not get to see the world open up to his tremendous sense of duty and heart.

The story of Richard Jewell should serve as a clarion call for those wrapped up in stories of the FBI and the press in present day. Many of the same forces are still at play in the field of shaping public opinion. If you still trust everything you’re being told today, just because it’s from “authority,” you are feeding a beast more voracious now than ever.

Eastwood is the perfect director for this material. His lens and his storytelling is plainspoken, just like the titular hero. The director and his writer’s sophistication is in the bleaching power of sunlight on deeds which most would rather keep in the dark. Are we certain that a female journalist (Wilde) slept with an overzealous agent (Hamm) to get the information that started the momentum rolling towards Jewell and his family? No. It’s clearly a plot device.

In the world of Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, CNN and A Warning: Anonymous, there is plenty of room to understand how legally confidential information gets leaked and how that information might benefit someone who cannot obtain truth through legitimate means. It is these forces which prevent the truth from coming to light. There is no power greater than the cabal between the government and the press, as we now see every day whether we want to or not. They have their “insurance policies” which they continue to push on an unsuspecting and largely comfortable public.

The acting is superb throughout. Hauser, Rockwell and Bates are worthy of nominations that they likely will not get, given the material and the director’s track record of being ignored by the media. They don’t like Eastwood’s choices normally. What will they think now that he lets his incredible skill expose their bag of tricks as not so new?

Hauser is remarkable in his ability to show intelligence that is nearly undone by Jewell’s lack of sophistication and respect for authority. It’s a delicate balance he presents realistically. His work is heartbreaking at times. We see Jewell as a true patriot mocked for his appearance and his earnest belief in the goodwill of law enforcement throughout his ordeal.

Rockwell can do this kind of role in his sleep, but thankfully he never does take his work for granted. His lawyer Watson Bryant seems cut from a different section of the same cloth as Jewell. He has the guile that his client lacks. Seeing him battle Jewell’s own good intentions with kid gloves is incredible. The balancing act is handled with the tenderness that is the hallmark of Eastwood’s style. For a man who spent a lifetime being larger than life, Eastwood understands nuance better than any director of which I am aware.

As Jewell’s mother, Kathy Bates is once again as good as anyone acting today. She gives the impression of someone we could easily believe raised a hero too innocent to understand he’s being lined up for slaughter. Her job as mother is to support her son. She had every right to be proud of him. We gasp in horror in the realization that pride is going to be forever torn from both of them.

Richard Jewell never does get what he deserves, and he got a whole lot of what he didn’t deserve. This interview in 2002 before his death gives us a clear vision of a decent man tortured by forces he only understood after they tore him asunder. No amount of money can replace a good name.

Thank God for Clint Eastwood, Billy Ray and this incredible cast. They have pushed forward the name of a man who is as good, decent and important as anyone you ever will meet. Because of them, we all now can thank God for Richard Jewell.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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