Richard Jewel ****
One Liner Review:
A powerhouse of a movie, in terms of edge of your seat storytelling, and some pretty fantastic acting.
Talk about a triumph, this thing blows just about every other movie of the year out of the water. It’s not the very best film of the year… Avengers Endgame, being the culmination of every Marvel movie of the past decade takes that cake, but this movie sure is up there. It’s certainly the best Eastwood directed film, and that’s saying a lot, going all the way back to movies like A Perfect World, Mystic River, and American Sniper, to name three of his best. But this one has got them beat due to it’s true life story, it’s fantastic emotion, it’s gripping substance, and it’s powerhouse performances.
Let’s start with those performances. Paul Walter Hauser, playing the title role, knocks it out of the park. This guy is so good that it makes you want to go back and rewatch his previous two movies, I Tonya and Blackkk Klansman, just to see his performance. Only in those films he was playing a dummy and a villain and not so much a character to admire. Here, in Richard Jewell, he is the lifeline of the movie. He is the beating heart that catches our sympathy and caring, and holds onto them for the entire film. How Eastwood saw, in his previous two movies, that Hauser was capable of something like this, goes to show how masterful the director really is.
And the funny thing is, it’s not just Hauser who is sensational here. Sam Rockwell is pretty fantastic as well. This guy has gone from being a tiny role player in Galaxy Quest, back in the nineties, to a forgettable Marvel villain, (Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2,) to an Oscar winner. He started to really show his potential with Moon, back in 2009, and then when he teamed up with Martin McDonagh for both Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, there was no turning back. He won the Oscar for that movie, and continues to impress with everything he has done since. In Richard Jewell, Rockwell plays the friend and lawyer who has got Jewell’s back at all times. And he brings both wit and humor to the part. If Hauser is the emotion, then Rockwell is the comedy, and they both work together flawlessly.
The plot tells a story that we’re all somewhat familiar with, which would normally be a disadvantage. But here, every moment is made to count, and shown in great detail. Eastwood makes knowing what’s coming, or having an idea, work to his advantage. The movie starts off by showing Jewell rolling a mail cart around the floor of a law firm. We hear Rockwell’s voice, as Watson Bryant, a wise-guys smart-aleck lawyer, yelling at someone over the phone. And then Jewel shows up and offers Watson a candy bar. Watson asks how Jewel knew that he likes this particular type of candy bar, and Jewel says he checked Watson’s garbage bin. Then, right before he leaves, Jewel tells Watson to check the bottom drawer of his desk. Watson opens it to reveal a whole bunch of these exact same candy bars neatly placed in a row. It’s the perfect cherry on top, punctuation, to end the scene. It tells us that Jewel is very astute to detail, a little strange when it comes to boundaries, and most certainly the nicest guy in the world.
We continue following Jewel and Watson as they develop a small friendship. This includes playing at arcade shooting games together, even if it means missing a little work. When Jewel leaves the job, ready to move onto better things like police work, he stops by Watson’s office to say a farewell. And then we are off with Jewel doing security work. That’s what lands him at the field in Atlanta on the night of the bombing. It’s a field with a large stage and some lovely performances that draw up big crowds. One night, Jewel’s mother, played by Kathy Bates, is there in attendance. In fact, Jewel requests working at that field just so he can stop by and say hi to his mom while she is there. This is Centennial Park. It’s where the bomb will be going off, just two nights later.
The bombing scene itself is pretty fantastic. The movie builds in tension beautifully, as Jewell and the police officers watching the field treat it like any other night at first, with Jewel bringing water bottles out to a pregnant lady and to the cops on patrol. When he sees a bunch of teens smashing bottles against a building, Jewell tries to stop them, but eventually has to get the police to help. They chase down the kids, but it’s not until after they’ve all run off that Jewel notices a backpack left under a bench. He tells the cops. They assume it’s just filled with beer cans. Turns out they’re wrong. Jewel keeps pushing the issue until the cops check it out, and we watch the face of the guy who gets under the bench and opens the bag, closely. Showing this sequence in such great detail, including Jewel running up to the booths and camera stands to evacuate everyone still there, is terrific. It’s incredibly suspenseful even though we know what’s coming. And Eastwood handles it all masterfully.
And then, of course, there is the explosion. The big moment to end part one of the film. Following the bombing, Jewell is seen as a hero. He does multiple TV interviews, and even gets an offer for a book deal. But then an FBI investigator (played by John Hamm,) has a drink at a bar with a newspaper reporter, (played by Olivia Wilde,) and tells her way more than he should. He tells her that they are looking at Jewell. He does this to just to sleep with her, and that point is made abundantly clear. She is offering sex in exchange for a story. Considering that none of this is fact, or has ever been proven, and that all we know is that the reporter wrote the story, not how she got it, the sleeping with an FBI man for a story seems a little too basic. Especially in today’s day and age. The real reporter has passed away, so she can’t say anything, but her depiction in this movie is pretty lousy. Especially in that scene.
But it’s one of the only things that doesn’t work in the movie. And what does work is the way that Jewell goes from hero to villain overnight, and can’t believe what is happening to him. The FBI men trick Jewel into coming to the station, saying they need help with making a training video. Then they start asking him lots of questions, and Jewell has the good sense to demand a lawyer. He knows one. Watson Bryant. And so Bryant becomes his go to guy, and sticks up for him every chance he can get. When the FBI men come into the house to take their possessions away for DNA analysis, it is Bryant who is right there with Jewel and his mother, telling them what’s about to happen, and how they should handle it. He’s a pro all the way, and Rockwell pays him perfectly.
If the first half of the movie is about everything up until Jewel becoming a public enemy, (so the bombing, and the 15 minutes of fame with him being a hero to the public,) then the second half is about him being investigated by the FBI. John Ham plays an FBI man well. He had a similar role in the excellent Ben Affleck-directed movie, The Town. Ham is all business and serious about putting guys away. He doesn’t trust anyone, and feels in many ways responsible for what happened at Centennial Park, or for not noticing it earlier. Ham was right there, walking the field, and noticing the cops all gathered around one area, evacuating the people who are out there on the field.
The events of the movie unfold flawlessly. Even the reporter who writes the article continues to have a part in the movie as the story goes son. And one of the absolute best things about this one is watching how these guys just cannot break Jewel. They can’t make him angry or scared. No matter what they do to him or how they treat him, Jewell wants to cooperate, and even help with the investigation in whatever ways he can. He continually offers his services, and tells the FBI men who are investigating him that he’s a lot like them in terms of the security and surveillance he does. He wants them to know that they are all on the same side of this thing. It’s comedic the way he keeps telling them that he’s an investigator too, just like them. In fact, this movie does find the right doses of comedy, despite its very serious story. Sam Rockwell can he thanked in large part for that. But this movie works in all areas. It fires on all cylinders.