Richard Jewell Review: Eastwood’s latest shows that he’s got his groove back
While Clint Eastwood has and always will be an iconic name in film, he’s had some recent stumbles as a director lately. From the messy The 15:17 to Paris, a film in which I literally turned to the person next to me and said that this could be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, to the mediocre The Mule, I was left worrying that Eastwood was losing his touch. However, with his latest film, Richard Jewell, Eastwood shows that that’s clearly not the case as the film hits strong emotional beats through its true story and three strong performances that will easily resonate with viewers.
The film follows the true story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), an American security guard that went from American hero to a prime suspect in a matter of days after he saved thousands of lives from a bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. While Jewell is pegged as a hero at first, the media and FBI see him as the perfect suspect and end up villainizing him to the public. With the help of his lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), and the support of his mother (Kathy Bates), Jewell is forced to do everything in his power to prove his innocence.
While Hauser isn’t a novice actor by any means, I couldn’t really tell you many other leading or supporting roles he’s had in his career, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with him as Jewell. After seeing him, though, he easily delivers one of the strongest performances of this year as he makes Jewell’s admiration and respect for the law very believable. With Jewell having aspirations to get back into law enforcement, he has a firm grasp of the law, strong respect for those that uphold it, and desire to see justice be served – even those he isn’t respected by his fellow officers. He’s never taken seriously by other people and generally seen as either a goody-two shoes or a nuisance, but this never deters him from wanting to see justice served. All of this is what makes Hauser’s performance so special as this love for law is essentially used against him and what makes him the perfect suspect. With the FBI using Jewell’s failed attempts to become an officer and his lonely personality against him, you’re always feeling a sense of sorrow and ironic regret for Jewell because the more his respectful personality and past come forward, the worse he looks.
Hauser never plays him off as constantly angry and rather holds all of that emotion in to make Jewell more fascinating and draw viewers into his mindset. There’s this balancing act that Hauser does in showing Richard’s respect for the law but trying not to incriminate himself further in his eyes. There’s so much emotion that being held in by Hauser that just waiting to be unleashed – which it does to create one of the strongest emotional moments of the film. It’s definitely a strong breakthrough performance for Hauser and his chemistry with Rockwell and Bates is perfect. Rockwell puts in another strong performance in his incredible career being one of the big support systems to Jewell as his lawyer. When the film initially introduces you Bryant and Jewell’s relationship, there’s a humbleness and genuine sense of care that comes from it that makes you instantly understand why they have such a strong friendship and respect for one another. This is exactly what brings them together when things take a turn for the worst for Jewell and Bryant serves as strong backbone that audiences will instantly get behind.
He’s constantly trying to steer Jewell in the right direction to clear his name and is never afraid to get angry with him when he goes against his advice. He really emphasizes the “reality” about his situation that Jewell needs to hear and that will really resonate with viewers. Bates also puts in an incredibly emotional performance that hits viewers where it hurts and shows the struggles she’s facing with her son’s accusations in a very realistic way. There’s a genuine love that Jewell’s mother, Bobi, has for her son that audiences will empathize with. Like Hauser, there’s a build of emotion that Bates has in seeing the FBI and the media upend their daily life and villainize her son that comes out in a monologue that will easily have viewers on the verge of tears. Bates has already gotten plenty of award recognition for her performance here, and it would surprise or upset me to see her have another Oscar nomination heading her way.
All three of these great performances help drive the film’s narrative and create a story about injustice and perception that audiences will latch onto. For the most part, the film does a great job immersing viewers into Jewell’s world. Every time the media swarms around him and his mother’s apartment you can feel this sense of claustrophobia and every time the FBI tricks Jewell or invades his privacy there’s a sense of helplessness and feeling violated that really hits viewers. There’re some elements of the investigation, like the stories from other officers on scene with Jewell during the bombing, that feel missing and some arcs in the film, like the relationship between Bryant and his secretary (Nina Arianda), not really having much weight to it.
The characterizations of FBI agent Shaw (Jon Hamm) and reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), after Jewell are also very lackluster and even cartoonish at times. The second we’re introduced to these two, it’s impossible to take them seriously. They feel almost like maniacal villains with the way that Scruggs is so sexual and how Shaw is just clearly out to get Jewell to make the case. There’s nothing all that interesting to them and even the arcs and motivations associated with them hold zero weight. There’s a redemption arc for Scruggs that feels totally unearned and viewers won’t connect with it in the slightest because of how unlikable she is. As for Shaw, he’s pretty much just as unlikable and the film tries to give him a motivation and reasoning behind his determination to nab Jewell that connects to him also being at the bombing, but it’s barely delved into and his emotional motivation, or any real motivation other than him wanting to make the case, feels almost non-existent.
Even for its imperfections and bad characterizations for those on the opposite side of Jewell, Eastwood still shows that he’s still got plenty of talent as a director with Richard Jewell. It’s a film that easy to enjoy and boasts some strong emotional points that stems from the incredible performances from Rockwell, Bates, and especially Hauser.