In Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood gives us yet another instalment in his mini-series of films about heroic individuals who defy the odds, resist the bureaucracy, and fight against government scrutiny to remain everyday heroes. Basically a constant stream of Libertarian fantasies.
Paul Walter Hauser stars as the titular security guard who successfully stopped the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing in Centennial Park from doing maximum damage. Only one person lost their life, and Jewell was named a hero by the media, but days later Jewell was investigated by the FBI as the main bomber suspect, which leaked to the media and briefly tarnished his name. But everything was fine in the end. Just like in Invictus, Sully, and The 15:17 to Paris.
All art is political and this is definitely something that Clint Eastwood knows and keeps in check in nearly all of his films since 2009. Eastwood believes in people and obviously feels inspired by their abilities for heroism, to look danger and certain death in the eye, stay calm, and then do the right thing, but he keeps picking these small acts to dedicate entire 2-hour narratives on when the stories themselves don’t lend much to natural dramatic tension. Spoiler alert: Richard Jewell saved people and he wasn’t the bomber.
Of course, the whole FBI investigation into Jewell, framing him as a major suspect was something that actually happened, and dramatic license to make this story work better as a movie is one thing, but Clint, you need to give us more than the same thing we’ve seen before. Here’s the part where the investigation heats up, here’s the close-up on a character while they make some big speech about once believing in the government but now the system is against them, here’s scene after scene of quiet contemplation and tears coming from loved ones, and finally the cliché press conference and triumphant final scene where their innocence is proven. Rinse and repeat, as if we have amnesia to stereotypes.
Richard Jewell has a great cast with Paul Walter Hauser standing tall and giving a terrific performance, assisted by solid supporting roles played by Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates. But then we have other talented actors like Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm playing one-dimensional villains which is a total waste of time and talent. Of course, Hauser has the most to work with, but the direction of the rest of the cast is uninspired, no matter how much they seem to be wanting to give to these roles.
That’s Richard Jewell’s greatest flaw: it’s all so uninspired. Clint Eastwood is in comfort mode as a director, flashing off a few scenes in his movies of either visual dynamism (the IMAX sequences in Sully) or competent tension (the bombing sequence here in Richard Jewell) but these are fleeting moments in visually dull and narratively bland movies that are best seen on a plane. Richard Jewell may not have been amazing in another director’s hands, but perhaps it would have been less blunt, better edited, far less stereotypical, and more interesting at least.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell
Writer: Billy Ray (based on American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell by Marie Brenner)