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Hello, Movie Buffs!
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who dreams of becoming a cop, is working security at a music festival in Centennial Park when he discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench near the music control tower. With little time to spare and not willing to take any chances, Richard helps evacuate as many people from the area as possible before the bomb explodes. Although he is hailed as a hero in the initial aftermath of the event, the law enforcement wannabe reaches out to his old friend Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), an independent and anti-establishment attorney, to represent him when he became the FBI’s (Jon Hamm) number one suspect and the media (Olivia Wilde) falsely reports him as a terrorist. But Bryant soon discovers that he is out of his depth when he has to fight the combined powers of the FBI, GBI, and APD to clear his client’s name, while also preventing Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him. Directed by Clint Eastwood (The Mule) and written by Billy Ray (Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man), Richard Jewell (2019) is a biographical drama based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell" by Marie Brenner.
At 89 years old, Clint Eastwood has transitioned from playing the dual role of actor & director to primarily staying behind the camera and he has become increasingly fascinated with real-life subjects and has, additionally, been interested in dissecting the concept of heroism and villainy, whether it be fictional or reality-based. In Richard Jewell, Eastwood returns to these themes by examining the titular character experience a rollercoaster ride of transformation from being society's hero to being their villain. Apart from saving lives, Jewell is not a very compelling muse for a box office hit, but the campaign mounted on him by the FBI and the media is. The film shows how Jewell became the center of attention first for saving lives and then later for fitting in with the FBI’s profile description of the likely assailant. And while he was never formally charged he was harassed and demonized by law enforcement and the media. The feeding frenzy that surrounded his story nearly killed him as well as traumatized his mother, and Eastwood depicts this in a manner that is irate and furious but without going off the rails.
The film takes the unusual approach of casting the media and law enforcement as the antagonists because Eastwood wanted to illustrate the power wielded by both agencies and how sometimes they abuse those powers when they come to a conclusion that is not entirely truthful. Yes, the First Amendment is the First Amendment, people have the right to express free speech but people should also be held responsible for the irresponsibility of the tone used when telling a story. This is not the first time that the media has falsely accused someone of being someone that they were not, and it was definitely not the last time. The film shows how one rumor, one piece of false information printed in a newspaper can destroy a person’s life in a way that is almost impossible to fix. Additionally, the film shows how when overzealous government agency are given too much freedom in an investigation can be ruled by personal biases rather than studying the evidence. As far as I am concerned, they saw Jewell as an easy way out and even when the evidence said otherwise, they simply adjusted their narrative in order to fit the conviction that they wanted; it was coercion at its fullest. And while some might see Richard Jewell for the political film that it is, it is also undoubtedly a David vs. Goliath story that I am sure many people can relate to today.
Eastwood has been known for having a complex conception of heroism and villainy, that he clearly believes in good and evil, and here he proves once again that he is one of the few directors who has the guts to be raw and unapologetic in depicting the bad characters as being unapologetically bad. Jon Hamm (Good Omens, SNL) represents law enforcement by portraying the composite character Agent Tom Shaw and his performance is incredible. He demonstrates how his character is seething with resentment for the bomb going off on his watch and makes Jewell the target of his rage. He’s stubborn and unrelenting, and even when he knows that he has no evidence for a conviction, his ego and rage prevent him from admitting he’s wrong. Olivia Wilde’s (Life Itself) portrayal of the aggressive and callous reporter, Kathy Scruggs is eye-opening. She portrays her as a scoop machine who justifies her actions because she believes that she’s got something to prove simply because she is a woman in a largely male newsroom. But having reasons and ambitions doesn’t always make you right, and while Hamm’s character fails to evolve beyond his preconceived beliefs, Wilde’s character does evolve. Although she was a bit cringe-worthy to watch throughout most of the film, she ends up redeeming herself by the end when she figures out that Jewell is innocent and expresses remorse for destroying a man’s life with false accusations. Kathy Bates (Netflix’s The Highwayman) as Richard's mother Bobi and Nina Arianda (Goliath, Billions) as Watson Bryant's paralegal, Nadya, provide two of the strongest supporting roles throughout the whole film. Bates starts out as a loving and simple mother to Richard, but her press conference captures the emotional turmoil of character in a new light, while Arianda brings some warmth and welcome sarcasm with her performance. Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya, Late Night) is spot-on as the idiosyncratic Richard Jewell and Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) is perfect as the sarcastic Watson Bryant, and together the pair deliver some interesting and heartfelt moments that allow for them to play off of each other’s strengths.
Overall, Richard Jewell (2019) is a David vs. Goliath story mixed in with some political themes that make for an interesting and entertaining film. Clint Eastwood has been known for creating films that are raw and unapologetic in their story. Of the many things that this film touches on here is what people should take away from it: people have the right to express free speech but there are consequences to our actions, and people should be held responsible for what they do, especially when it has a direct negative impact on someone’s life. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t always mean that it’s right or wrong, at the end of the day the truth will speak for itself. I highly recommend that you watch this film and come to your own opinion, at the very least it will be entertaining and thought-provoking.
Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars
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