tue 25/02/2020

Richard Jewell review - a portrait of duty and dignity in this true-life tale | reviews, news & interviews

Richard Jewell review - a portrait of duty and dignity in this true-life tale

Richard Jewell review - a portrait of duty and dignity in this true-life tale

Clint Eastwood offers up a complex, but flawed, account of the real-life hero blamed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing

Sam Rockwell as defence attorney Watson Bryant and Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell

Since Play Misty For Me in 1971, Clint Eastwood has been tearing up the American myth with a body of muscular, often melancholic work. He continues this theme with Richard Jewell, the story of a security guard falsely accused of the 1996 Atalanta Olympic Park bombing.

Eastwood focuses squarely on the witch hunt by the media and FBI that turned Jewell from overnight hero to one of the most hated men in America, showing just how vulnerable a private citizen is to the machinations of state power. The real bomber, white-supremist Eric Rudolph, is barely mentioned.

It’s easy to see why a film like Richard Jewell could be regarded as pro-Trump, and Eastwood hasn’t been shy about his support for the current President (according to the director we are living in a "pussy generation"). Yet, whatever the film’s political leanings, the way that Eastwood interrogates his material remains fascinating, albeit flawed. Sam Rockwell in Richard JewellEastwood’s treatment of Jewell himself is the greatest success of the film. Under his direction, Paul Walter Hauser, who impressed in I, Tonya, is remarkable. It’s a nuanced portrayal of a man zealous about his sense of duty, but who never loses sight of right and wrong, even if he remains woefully naive. Supporting performances from Kathy Bates, who plays Jewell’s mother, and Sam Rockwell as the cantankerous lawyer Watson Bryant, are equally impressive. 

Of more concern are the characterisations of the media by Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray. The portrayal of the late Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde) is outright malicious, implying the reporter was willing to sleep with a lead to get a story. The media are clearly the enemy in Eastwood’s eyes. While Jewell’s trial by media in the 1990s was nothing less than criminal, attacks on the free press in 2020 are a bitter pill to swallow. Eastwood’s portrayal of Scruggs, now unable to defend herself, seems callous. 

There’s an elegance and power to Richard Jewell, despite some of the ham-fisted decisions. It focuses on the humanity of the central character, a man whose sense of duty and dignity isn’t smirked at, but treated with the utmost respect instead. 

Over 50 years Clint Eastwood has built a remarkable body of work. Richard Jewell isn’t up there with Unforgiven, or even the deeply uneven and equally complicated American Sniper. Nevertheless, whether or not you agree with Eastwood’s politics, he’s a director of undoubted skill who is tackling the mythos of America like no other.

@JosephDAWalsh

It’s easy to see why a film like 'Richard Jewell' could be regarded as pro-Trump

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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