"Richard Jewell" (2019)- Movie Review

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Billy Ray (based on article by Marie Brenner)
Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates

‘A Captivating Crime Drama’

When it comes to the most heroic security guards in American history, Richard Jewell is definitely one of them. In 1996, Jewell made front-page headlines when he saved countless of civilian lives at the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing. Initially, Jewell was admired by the public for his honorable actions. However, in a cruel twist of fate, the FBI began to falsely suspect Jewell to be the perpetrator behind the attack. Not only was Jewell’s private life disrupted by the FBI’s investigation, but he became a tragic victim of media scrutiny. How did a seemingly innocent security guard become the prime suspect of a major terrorist attack?

This is the intriguing premise behind Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Richard Jewell”. An intense, gripping and moving biopic, it offers a fascinating look at the life of a falsely implicated bombing suspect. With his thirty-eighth feature, legendary filmmaker Clint Eastwood has crafted an authentic account of the investigation into the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing. Packed with captivating cinematography, engrossing storytelling and phenomenal performances, it is a highly effective crime drama. Although “Richard Jewell” is undeniably riveting, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It is unevenly paced, and suffers from a dearth of compelling female characters. Nonetheless, it offers taut entertainment that will satisfy fans of crime dramas.

Based on actual events, “Richard Jewell” tells the true story of a security guard that is wrongfully accused of a terrorist attack. Paul Walter Hauser stars in the titular role as Richard Jewell, a courageous security guard with noble intentions. Jewell is hailed as a hero by the public when he prevents a bombing at Centennial Olympic Park. However, Jewell’s life forever changes when the FBI frames him as the perpetrator of the attack. As Jewell’s heroism is thrown into question, he soon becomes determined to prove his innocence.

Director Clint Eastwood has long been fascinated with themes of heroism. His films often shed light on the lives of real-life heroes that are misunderstood by the public. “Richard Jewell”, however, marks his first fact-based drama and foray into the life of a falsely accused bombing suspect. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to dramatize the FBI’s investigation into the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Eastwood draws viewers into the life of a wrongfully implicated security guard. From intimate close-ups to tense tracking shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s setting. Eastwood’s decision to shoot the film using archival news footage is risky, but it works tremendously. It lends a gritty sense of realism and authenticity to the film that is missing from most fact-based dramas. Working alongside cinematographer Yves Bélanger, Eastwood creates a fabulous film in which each frame captures the consequences of false allegations. Eastwood excels at recreating the investigation, and his latest feature is worth watching for this reason alone.

If stories of real-life heroes do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Richard Jewell”. The film is extremely well-written, and offers a timely depiction of the dangers posed by sensationalist news. Billy Ray’s adapted screenplay is spectacular, and arguably the main highlight of the movie. Ray’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to defy viewer expectations by telling two parallel stories in conjunction. In Hollywood, most fact-based dramas follow a formulaic three-act structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. This often leaves no room for surprises and detracts from the quality of the movie-going experience. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not case with “Richard Jewell”. The film deftly switches back and forth between two distinct narratives: Richard Jewell’s journey to prove his innocence and the female journalist that falsely reports him as a terrorist. Through this unique parallel structure, Ray crafts a film that is constantly surprising. Parallel storytelling is a tricky technique to employ in a fact-based drama, but it works immensely in this movie. Using an unconventional screenplay, Ray keeps viewers engrossed in the world of a victimized hero.

It is hard to not praise the powerful performances from the cast. Every star gets the chance to shine, but the film is mainly a stunning showcase for its leading man.

Paul Walter Hauser delivers his finest performance to date as Richard Jewell. Hauser is best known for playing comedic characters in period pieces. With “Richard Jewell”, however, he takes on his most dramatic role to date. It is not easy to get into the mindset of an innocent man that is falsely accused of terrorism. It’s an emotionally demanding role that puts the actor through the wringer. However, Hauser pulls it off effortlessly. With mesmerizing expressions, he captures the courage, determination and inner turmoil of the wrongfully implicated hero. While Hauser isn’t well-known, this breakout performance will surely gain him the recognition he deserves.

The supporting cast is excellent and also worthy of recognition. Sam Rockwell is sensational and brings a sense of gravitas to the role of Richard’s supportive lawyer Watson Bryant. Kathy Bates is brilliant and imbues shades of humanity into Richard’s grief-stricken mother Bobi Jewell. And finally, it is hard to not mention Jon Hamm. As the merciless FBI Agent Tom Shaw, he brings an air of menace to the movie.

Although “Richard Jewell” is undeniably a captivating crime drama, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s one area where the film falters, it is in the pacing department. Assisted by Arturo Sandoval’s rousing score, Eastwood keeps the film moving at an engaging pace during its first hour. However, once the film enters its climax, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the film suffers from stereotypical characterization of female reporters. Eastwood’s decision to portray female journalists in a negative light comes across as ill-conceived. For instance, Kathy Scruggs is a reprehensible female reporter that perpetuates sexist stereotypes about women. Given that Scruggs is a real person, the film’s inhumane depiction of her doesn’t entirely ring true. Fact-based dramas thrive based on their authentic portrayals of real-life people, and in this regard “Richard Jewell” falls short of expectations.

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that “Richard Jewell” is a movie that is not meant for everyone. In light of its provocative themes, the film may not please mainstream audiences. The film tackles controversial topics such as terrorism, government corruption and media bias that will upset certain viewers. Viewers that are sensitive towards graphic scenes of violence may not enjoy the movie. Due to its disturbing themes, “Richard Jewell” is one of those movies that may not appeal towards commercial audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of crime dramas will definitely enjoy “Richard Jewell” and so will movie-goers seeking enlightening entertainment. A powerful piece of filmmaking, it sheds light on the life of an under-appreciated American hero. Arriving on the 24th Anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics Bombing, it’s a stirring tribute to the security guard whose disregarded heroism deserves to be celebrated today.

3.5/5 stars

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