Clint Eastwood is a specialist in telling stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, shown again recently in such films as “Sully” and “The 15:17 to Paris.”
It certainly is the case once more with the Eastwood-directed “Richard Jewell,” recalling the true situation of a security guard hailed as a hero for saving lives in a bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics – but then suspected of being the person who planted the explosives.
The best move Eastwood has made is to cast a relative unknown in the title role, though that actor is surrounded by familiar faces. Paul Walter Hauser does quite a good job as Jewell, who takes himself a bit too seriously when he’s on patrol, extending to laying down the law to college students. He gets endless encouragement and support from his mother, played by the always fabulous Kathy Bates, but he’s generally considered a misfit.
Then his time to shine arises, during that fateful moment in Atlanta. Just as quickly as he’s celebrated, though, he becomes vilified after a former boss arouses suspicions about what Jewell did. That gets the FBI and reporters interested … and though the respective roles are well-played by Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde, people who actually have those careers aren’t likely to be fans of how they’re depicted here.
One of the most-discussed aspects of “Richard Jewell” has been its inference – and despite any attempted dismissals of it, you cannot miss that inference – that the journalist portrayed by Wilde offered herself to the federal agent personified by Hamm in exchange for information on the Jewell case from him.
The Atlanta newspaper that employed the reporter (now deceased) insists that never happened; at the very least, showing such a situation in this day and age is not the best choice. And anyone who didn’t expect pushback on it simply wasn’t paying attention.
Sam Rockwell comes off a bit better as the attorney who agrees to represent Jewell against his accusers, and that puts Eastwood back on his familiar man-against-the-system turf. Hauser especially and notably makes a sympathetic Jewell in that portion of the movie.
Despite its controversy and its rather flat opening at the box office (likely costing it chances for awards it clearly was aiming for), “Richard Jewell” tells an involving story with a solid cast, and that combination puts it right in Clint Eastwood’s time-tested wheelhouse as a filmmaker.