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New Release Review - RICHARD JEWELL

richard jewell review
A security guard who saved lives during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics becomes the FBI's prime suspect.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda

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Thanks to America's dominance of the internet, if a gas station attendant in Boise, Idaho sneezes we now hear about it on this side of the Atlantic. It wasn't always that way. I remember back in 1996 seeing coverage of the bombing that took place during the Oympics, hosted that year in Atlanta, Georgia. What I don't recall ever seeing given airtime on this side of the pond was its immediate aftermath, in which security guard Richard Jewell, whose actions saved countless lives, found himself the FBI's prime suspect.

Jewell's story is now brought to the screen by Clint Eastwood, with Paul Walter Hauser, the wonderful character actor who stole I, Tonya from Margot Robbie a couple of years back, in the title role. Jewell is what many might cruelly designate as a "loser." He's overweight, lives with his mother (Kathy Bates), and has struggled to achieve the career in law enforcement he so desires. Those are the sort of boxes usually ticked by the type of person who might set off a bomb in a crowded public area - young white men angry at a world they blame for their own failings. Except Jewell isn't angry. Far from it. He's perfectly content with his lot in life.

richard jewell review


This doesn't stop the FBI from designating Jewell as their chief suspect. Sure, he was the one who found the bomb in a rucksack by a bench and alerted the authorities, but agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) has made his mind up that he did so in order to receive media attention. The irony is, the media is alerted to Jewell's status as a suspect through Shaw's leaking of info to ruthless local journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, channelling Faye Dunaway).

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Richard isn't the dumb yokel Shaw believes he's dealing with, and sees through the FBI man's underhanded attempt to have him implicate himself. Desperate for legal help, Richard turns to Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a rough around the edges lawyer who was the only person who gave Richard as much as the time of day during his stint as an office supply worker in Bryant's offices.

richard jewell review


Much like Mike Leigh, Eastwood has a gift for mining comedy from scenarios that have high personal and political stakes. The highlight of Richard Jewell is the awkward bromance that develops between Jewell and Bryant. Jewell's reluctance to treat the investigating parties with the disdain they deserve rankles with Bryant, who seems energised by this opportunity to sock it to the man. Early on, Bryant realises that it couldn't have been physically possible for his client to call in the bomb threat and make it to the detonation point in the limited time he had available to do so, and this fuels Bryant's aggressive interactions with Shaw. If you possess a healthy mistrust of authority, there's an almost pornographic thrill to watching Bryant get in the FBI's square-jawed face in such a hostile manner.

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No other American mainstream filmmaker captures the banality of America quite like Eastwood. You have to look to indie films like Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls to find people and places as recognisably American as those which populate and provide the backdrops for Eastwood's human dramas. Is there an actor who looks more American than Paul Walter Hauser? His Richard Jewell is a character who embodies everything I admire about Americans (their eternal optimism and willingness to go out of their way to help others), along with everything that frustrates me about them (their blind allegiance to the powers that run their nation). His performance is emotionally affecting and wildly endearing - you just want to give the big schlub a hug - and watching his innocence spar with Rockwell's cynical street smarts is a delight.

richard jewell review


Similarly, Bates looks and acts like everyone's mother, and there's a wonderful moment when having earlier cleared out her home, the FBI returns her tupperware, and we simply watch as she attempts to scrape away an evidence number they've scrawled in marker on a container. It's a small moment, but it speaks volumes about the contempt our governments treat us with.

Just as only Nixon could go to China, Eastwood is the only mainstream Hollywood filmmaker who can now get away with such political filmmaking. He's always had a libertarian philosophy which sees him bridges both sides of the political divide, but thanks to a combination of his role as Harry Callahan and public support for the Republican party, he's found himself labelled as a conservative filmmaker and has thus garnered a conservative audience. Would a conservative filmmaker argue in favour of euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby) and the legalisation of drugs (The Mule), and portray a homosexual relationship as the most positive part of a man's life (J. Edgar)? With Richard Jewell, Eastwood makes an argument that conservatives usually dismiss as the raving of left wing loons, that perhaps America's law enforcement exists not to protect and serve the public, but rather its own interests. With The Mule and Richard Jewell, Eastwood's metaphorical tour of China has proven decidedly productive.

Richard Jewell is in UK/ROI cinemas January 31st.




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