Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+
No good deed goes unpunished. Remember Frank Wills, the security guard at the Watergate Hotel who discovered something funny about the lock on a door and whose discovery brought down President Nixon? Wills was given a $2.50 raise and was denied a promotion that he requested based on his good citizenship. Think of Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger, rewarded for saving the lives of all aboard his plane, but not before he is baked over the coals for allegedly violating orders from the ground. Sulley, like Richard Jewell, was given his due by Clint Eastwood in the 2016 film “Sully.” The director’s now sets his sites on overzealous police.
If you’re high up, like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, you will be rewarded, maybe with a Pulitzer, as the two newspaper men got for reporting on the Watergate scandal in the Washington Post. But if you’re low on the totem pole, you may wind up like the title character, Richard Jewell, who saved scores of lives by alerting the authorities of a potential bomb inside a backpack left under a bench at the 1996 Atlantic Summer Olympic games. His reward? Though not under arrest, he remained a suspect as the bomber himself, later remaining for six more years as a suspected accomplice to the terrorist.
Richard Jewell is played remarkably by Paul Walter Hauser, not unknown as an actor but this time given the lead role by director Eastwood. Based on actual events surrounding the bombing of the Atlantic Olympics, “Richard Jewell” is anchored by Hauser’s performance, an overweight guy with a record as a screw-up, a former sheriff’s deputy who is eased out and forced to become a lowly supply clerk at a law firm after a college dean fired him for being overzealous in giving hell two a couple of students with alcohol in their dorm. Your record follows you for life and could help the authorities do a number on you for actions that are completely innocent.
Though already age 33 Jewell still lives with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), seems to have no social life, and becomes a punching bag, or doormat, by the FBI, eager for an arrest and conviction for a tragedy that took two lives and injured 111 others. As luck would have it, Jewell had made the acquaintance of a lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who is working at a law firm and who joins Jewell in a video shooting gallery. Jewell, a non-entity, is destined to become first a hero, then a terrorist, when on the evening of July 27, 1996 he warns police to clear an area because of the discovery of a suspicious backpack. When the bomb goes off, he is hailed as a hero in the press, particularly by journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who has been given confidential information by FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), with whom she may be having an affair. She is later to turn against Jewell with sensationalized reporting that trashes Jewell, reflecting Tom Shaw’s new, classified information.
Defended by Watson Bryant during questioning by Agent Shaw and his assistant Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez), Jewell becomes chief suspect for fitting the profile: a guy with a modest job, no friends, obese and living with mom, Jewell remains in Agent Shaw’s sites for six years, as the FBI closes the case, though Shaw tells Bryant that he think the lawyer’s client is “guilty as hell.” Watch the awards groups considering Paul Walter Hauser for Best Breakthrough Performance and Sam Rockwell for supporting role. They rivet attention.
This is the year that the movies free the innocents. In “Brian Banks,” a football star is convicted for a crime he did not commit and sentences to ten years of jail and probation. The California Innocence Project gave him back his life. In “Just Mercy,” a man is sentenced to death despite the lack of evidence and is freed thanks to the hard work of a newly graduated Harvard-educated attorney who declined big money jobs to work for virtually nothing. Losers, like starving lawyer Watson Bryant and security guard Richard Jewell become winners, working together in this solid police drama.
Director : Clint Eastwood
Cast: Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell