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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Richard Jewell (2019)

I know I’m behind, farther than I wanted to be, but I finally got to see “Richard Jewell” (now available on digital and Blu Ray). The new Clint Eastwood film proves that he is still a skilled filmmaker and that it’s always a good idea to never bet against or doubt the man and the legend of Clint Eastwood. “Richard Jewell” produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, is a thrilling and captivating story, that continues Eastwood’s streak of bringing stories of ordinary but unique Americans thrust into the spotlight by extraordinary circumstances. Led by a fantastic ensemble cast, including a scene stealing, Oscar worthy performance from Sam Rockwell and topped with a powerful performance from Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell. However while there is one unfortunate element that falters “Richard Jewell” from reaching a five star rating in my book. There is still more than enough here that makes it one of the very best films of 2019.

Clint Eastwood has made our day for over 70 years, having directed over 40 films and acted in at least 80 films. Now at the age of 90, Clint Eastwood is still on the top of game. Still working behind the camera and directing films as if he was in his prime coming off his big Oscar winner “Unforgiven”. It’s always a good idea to never bet against or doubt Clint Eastwood, who proves once again with his newest film “Richard Jewell” that he is still a skilled filmmaker. 

Clint Eastwood, who in recent years has concentrated largely on stories of ordinary but unique Americans thrust into the spotlight by circumstances, such as: “American Sniper”, Sully” and “The 15:17 to Paris”. With “Richard Jewell”, Eastwood joins actor & director Peter Berg in perfecting his cinematic approach to real stories to become one of the most humanistic, bold and invigorating American filmmakers. 

Richard Jewell was a security guard tasked to oversee some stereo equipment during a concert at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta games. He spotted an unattended backpack under a bench, so he followed protocol and called over police who discovered it was a bomb. Despite attempts to clear out the crowded area, moments later, the bomb 40-pound bomb, filled with nails and screws went off. It killed one woman, Alice Hawthorne, while Turkish cameraman Melih Uzunyol died of a heart attack as he rushed to film the scene and injured more than 100 others. (It should be said, the editing on the bombing set-piece is first-rate).

In the immediate aftermath, Jewell was hailed a hero for his vigilance and quick thinking. Within days, he became the FBI’s prime suspect. His characteristics of his dogged attention to enforcing the rules, were the same reasons he had moved on from previous gigs in law enforcement and security. People found him too intense, inflexible and his former employer who sounded the alarm on Jewell, by contacting the FBI after seeing him on TV. 

It all led to the FBI, being so quick to pin him as a suspect. The FBI pegged him to fit the profile of a man, who would commit the crime so he could save the day and bask in the glory. He was constantly hounded by FBI and the media, who camped out in the front of his mother’s apartment where he lived, intruding on every aspect of his life.

Eastwood isn’t setting out to make his film a one-sided, vindictive diatribe against the FBI agents and the media. We understand why the investigation so quickly focused on Jewell, but really “Richard Jewell” is more about what happens when the government victimises its citizens and reminds us to think deeper before passing judgement on others.

Leonardo DiCaprio who was attached to play Jewell’s lawyer Bryant and Jonah Hill originally slated to play Richard Jewell, both are producers on the film. Hill didn’t play Richard Jewell, but Paul Walter Hauser got the chance as the title character. Hauser is best known for two memorable supporting performances in “I, Tonya” and “BlacKkKlansman”, but here in his first leading role. Paul Walter Hauser is a revelation, turning in a truly extraordinary and powerful performance, that lifts him up into a new realm.

Kathy Bates who received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Jewell’s mother works well. In perhaps the most impactful scene in the film, Kathy Bates addresses the world in a press conference in which she begs President Clinton and the FBI to clear her son’s name. Your heart breaks for this hard-working, loving mother who never wanted anything more than for her son to realize his dream of working in law enforcement, only to find them both living a nightmare created by the very type of men her son worshiped. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene alone convinced the academy to give her the golden statue. 

“Mad Men” star Jon Hamm plays the FBI agent who is so sure that Jewell is guilty. Hamm is written as pretty one note and just feels like a sleazier version of his role as an FBI agent from Ben Affleck’s “The Town”.

The one thing that falters “Richard Jewell” from reaching the greatness it deserves is in its portrayal of real-life reporter Kathy Scruggs, played obnoxiously by Olivia Wilde. Scruggs was the reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution who broke the story that the FBI was looking into Jewell as a suspect. The story, as it stood at the time, was accurate, which was vindicated in a defamation suit years later.

The films problem is that it presents Scruggs as a female reporter who slept with a source in a quid pro quo for information. This isn’t a heightened, unrealistic drama like “House Of Cards”, so coming from such an accomplished and smart writer like Billy Ray, I expected better. His decision in the portrayal of real life reporter Kathy Scruggs, is unfortunate and leaves a bad taste. 

It’s so much worse when it’s a based on a real person and uses her name. Scruggs who died in 2001, isn’t even around to defend herself. But her friends and former colleagues are and they have declared unequivocally that this didn’t happen, and that Scruggs never would have done that to get information. Sure it may have been a small moment in a two hour movie, but it leaves a bitter taste and mars the whole package. Billy Ray (“Secret In Their Eyes”, “Breach”, “Overlord”) is one of the best and smartest screenwriters in Hollywood and I’m disappointed about his decision in portraying her. 

While Scruggs portrayal is what I disliked the most about Eastwood’s film, there is still so much that he gets right. Including the single best thing about the movie, well for me at least is…Sam Rockwell. Rockwell has become the go to guy for scene stealing supporting work (he’s even got a supporting actor Oscar to prove it). Rockwell is marvelous, engaging, scene stealing and deserved another best supporting actor Oscar. 

The story Eastwood is telling is a compelling one, a real-life drama recounting the abuse of power by the two most powerful institutions in America, the government and the press. It’s a thrilling and captivating story, with a fantastic ensemble cast, including an Oscar worthy performance from Sam Rockwell and topped with a powerful performance from Paul Walter Hauser. “Richard Jewell” is as accomplished as you’d expect from Eastwood. It’s really well shot, the music is impactful and the pacing of the story is right; all of this adds up to a solid film, resulting in one of the very best films of 2019.

GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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