- Matthew Turner
- 27 January 2020
Savage and righteous retelling of the eponymous security guard's trial by media from Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood continues his run of true-story-based films about accidental or unconventional American heroes (American Sniper, Sully, The 15:17 to Paris, The Mule) with this gripping drama about Richard Jewell, the security guard who saved countless lives at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, only to then be accused of planting the bomb himself. It's a timely tale that sticks extra sharp skewers into both the government and the media.
In a stroke of casting genius, Jewell is played by Paul Walter Hauser, a character actor best known for small roles in BlacKkKlansman and I, Tonya. He plays Jewell as a schlubby, stay-at-home mama's boy, a wannabe cop who occasionally gets into trouble for overzealous behaviour in his various security jobs.
It's exactly that behaviour that ends up saving lives when Jewell spots a suspicious package at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and clears the area, becoming a national hero in the process. But when FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) leaks the fact that Jewell is their lead suspect to journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), the public quickly turn on him and he hires small-time lawyer (and friend) Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) to clear his name.
Adapted from the Vanity Fair article 'American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell' by Marie Brenner, Billy Ray's script is a savage indictment of trial by media, which only feels more relevant 24 years later. The framing of the film is fascinating – the audience knows from the outset that Jewell is innocent, making a mockery of the so-called evidence against him (his gun collection, the incidents in his past), and Eastwood infuses his film with righteous anger at the escalating injustice.
The performances are terrific across the board. Rockwell is at his best as Bryant and the onscreen chemistry he shares with Hauser is a delight. Similarly, an Oscar-nominated Kathy Bates is wonderful as Jewell's devoted mother, while Hamm and Wilde are superb in less-than-savoury roles, though the apparent dramatic licence taken with Wilde's character, and her method of securing stories, has attracted controversy. But, in the end, it's Hauser's show and he's nothing short of remarkable; the accuracy of his portrayal underlined by a brief clip of the real-life Jewell on a news report.
General release from Fri 31 Jan.