Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Review: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell
Cert: 15 / 131 mins / Dir. Clint Eastwood / Trailer

"The world will know his name and the truth" proclaims the poster for Richard Jewell, with director Clint Eastwood bravely carving this cinematic monument a mere twenty four years after our eponymous hero's trial by media for his alleged role in the 1996 Atlanta bombing, fifteen years after his official exoneration, after a 1997 magazine article, a 2014 documentary and a 2019 book. Clint, you're the real unsung hero of this whole damned saga. Bravo.

Following a nuts-and-bolts lead up, we follow Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) through the events of that fateful evening and into its aftermath. The lowly security guard who discovers a suspect package at a concert is initially lauded for his vigilance, then turned upon by the media (represented here largely by Olivia Wilde) as they learn that the FBI (represented here largely by John Hamm) considers Jewell to be a leading suspect in the case, albeit with not enough evidence to actually charge him. Richard's efforts to clear his name with the assistance of lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) are confounded by his fitting the profile of a 'hero' bomber, and also his unerring ability to say the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time. Can the truth rise above all this?


Well yes it can, since much like Just Mercy, we know from the moment the emergency occurs that Jewell did not manufacture or plant the bomb. We're shown that explicitly. So the film loses the chance to be a double-crossing conspiracy thriller and turns into a lecture instead. Irrespective of an audience's knowledge of the case, there's a far better movie to be made from playing those scenes with ambiguity. Instead the press, media and FBI become the pantomime villains in a surprisingly linear take which paints nobody in a particularly good light, and much like 2016's Sully, we're even treated to dream-sequence re-enactments of the bombing with different outcomes. Nice of Clint to keep the action throughout the film, I suppose. Because since there was no sweeping courtroom triumph to the Jewell case and the FBI eventually just dropped the charges, the story peters out anyway. So it's probably for the best that this follows it petering-in to begin with.

Paul Walter Hauser makes for a decent lead, assuming his aim is to keep a respectable distance between the character and the audience's empathy. He plays 'borderline unlikeable' fairly well (with a conflict that's missing from the rest of the movie) yet still stays within the boundaries of writer Billy Ray's screenplay. The supporting cast are largely fine in roles that feel like quickly typed caricatures rather than real people. Coming out on top is Sam Rockwell, firmly in the runner-up position for screen time but he appears to be the only person on the set trying to be in a better film.


To his credit, Eastwood makes a solid go of being undecided whether to make a film supporting a patriotic American undergoing trial by media for a crime he didn't commit, or whether to support the FBI for investigating a gun-obsessed, authority-obsessed, incel-prototype with potentially undiagnosed learning difficulties who a) looks guilty as hell and b) keeps saying dumb things that suggest he's guilty as hell. It's just a shame that this dichotomy doesn't make for an interesting story. There are no twists, no turns and certainly no surprises. Eastwood's directorial work is procedural - never moreso than here - as he describes events rather than painting a picture. Richard Jewell may have right on its side but the film made is without passion or flair.

Although contrary to the rulebook for This Sort Of Thing, it closes with three 'what happened next' caption-cards*1, but without accompanying photographs of the real-world players. Then again, Clint has already clumsily stitched in archive news footage of the actual Richard Jewell so there's probably no need. That's not the case all the way through, just at a point where it feels like the production was running out of time so didn't re-shoot that particular interview.

As is so often and so sadly the case with true story/injustice cinema, the story - and its participants - would be better served by someone making a documentary. Oh wait, they did.

But at least we know Richard Jewell's name and we know the truth, now.
Okay, we know some of the truth.
Okay, we know his name.


So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's like Sully but less mawkish, if only because Clint Eastwood prefers righteous indignance.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Not particularly.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, tops.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
This is entirely possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Sam Rockwell is in this, and also in Jojo Rabbit alongside Taiki 'IG-11' Waititi.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
(It's actually more like a 4/7, but I'm deducting a point for Eastwood's inclusion of the Macarena, complete with dancing. I mean I know this is a film about a terrorist atrocity, but that's fucking gratuitous.)

*1 One of which tells us that Sam Rockwell's lawyer Watson Bryant went on to marry his girlfriend and assistant Nadya Light. As if that had been some kind of tense undercurrent of the film, rather than one single shot of them kissing which has precisely zero effect on any of it because the screenwriter has taken the receptionist's character more for granted than the lawyer ever did...
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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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