As talented as Clint Eastwood is as an actor in his prime (in the 60s and 70s) and as a director (Gran Torino, Sully), he will somehow shoehorn in his right-wing agenda and views that can sometimes stand out like a sore thumb. And nowhere is this more apparent than his biopic(?) of Richard Jewell called, well, Richard Jewell.
The story is about tryhard security guy Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) who becomes famous for discovering a pipebomb and saving folks during the 1996 Olympics in Centennial Park. Of course, the FBI (led by agent Tom Shaw played by Jon Hamm) suspects that Jewell fits the profile of perpetrators who seek for glory and attention by rescuing people from dangerous situations they manufacture themselves. And top journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution also digging info and then publishing a story that puts Jewell’s heroism in question.
Jewell isn’t alone, as he has attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) who took a shine to him in his earlier clerk jobs and his mother (Kathy Bates) help him out while also enduring the media and authoritative crossfire.
The tale of a falsely-accused man being left to the FBI and media hounds to feed on is incredibly on-the-nose with painting the aforementioned entities as the antagonists. Actors Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde feel like caricatures than actual human beings who have different viewpoints of how the actual news story plays out.
That’s all well and good in a fictional story. But in an adaptation of something that happened in real life where each party have their own sides of the story? That’s a bit much and did leave a sour impression to me at least. It’s clear as day from the way its director and cinematographer frames Shaw and Scruggs as unbelievable antagonists that Eastwood really wants to enforce his beliefs and attitude out there with a subtlety of a sledgehammer.
To its credit, everybody’s performances are top-notch. Paul Walter Hauser plays a believable kind-hearted but naive cop-wannabe who ends up fulfilling his character arc, while Sam Rockwell’s polar opposite-attitude attorney showcases that he can play a loveable abrasive asshole fighting for the good guys. And yes, Kathy Bates’ performance as Jewell’s mom deserves the nominations for being incredibly sympathetic and dishing out the speeches to tug audience heartstrings in the film’s final on-the-nose moment.
Like I stressed, the film’s heart is in the right place: media can be a terrible power in the wrong hands and can ruin a person’s life overnight. As someone who writes and reports facts while sifting away fiction, we are incredibly aware of its huge influence. But we are also human. Clint Eastwood’s film gets his message across with stellar acting work and tense moments with a bit of comedy in-between, but at the expense of portraying its antagonists like soap opera villains.