By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 1996, the Atlanta Olympic Games experienced a tragic terrorist attack which changed the lives of many people. Richard Jewell, a humble security guard discovered a suspicious backpack which contained an explosive device that detonated on site, killing several and injuring more. Jewell’s discovery of the device and his vigilance in the matter helped save the lives of many others. However, because of his questionable behavior in the past, he became the prime suspect of the FBI’s investigation.
Clint Eastwood directs this film adaptation of this true story and Billy Ray penned the script. Though the movie does make a very compelling portrait of Jewell and paints him as a sympathetic victim, the journey there gets undermined by some highly questionable and messy choices that should never have been made. Richard Jewell (the movie) already has so much going for it that I have no idea why the filmmakers chose to make some stupid embellishments in the first place. Nevertheless, the movie does have its positive notes, but still leaves an odd taste in one’s mouth after all is said and done.
Based on Marie Brenner’s New York Time’s article, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell.” Eastwood’s and Ray’s movie portrays Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) as a “lovable loser” who means well. However, his law enforcement ambitions often cloud his judgment. Because of his poor choices as a police officer and security guard, he is almost instantly under suspicion by FBI agents Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez). To make matters worse, Jewell gets further indicted by journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) who breaks the story of the FBI’s suspicions of Jewell.
Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray have succeeded in making a tense, compelling and emotionally charged drama with Richard Jewell, but have taken a rather tawdry and ridiculous approach to their portrayal of Jewell’s antagonists. These choices with their character development often distract and take away from what probably was a very stressful time on Jewell’s life. Had the filmmakers had not taken such a problematic approach to the material, Richard Jewell would be a much better movie. The film has sn exceptional cast with Hauser and Bates (as Jewell’s mother) being the real standouts. The movie also features an outstanding turn by Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s brash attorney, Watson Bryant.
It is a case where the positive elements outweigh the negative ones, but as I previously stated, this movie has a bit of an aftertaste. Though it honors Jewell as a hero and victim, it does an oddly disrespectful service to its portrayal of late journalist Kathy Struggs. I have no idea what the filmmakers were thinking, but they seriously needed to rethink that approach.