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Review: Clint Eastwood delivers a great film in ‘Richard Jewell’ (Includes first-hand account)

While the American justice system is supposed to be built on the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, it often doesn’t work that way. For one, law enforcement can become so focused on a single suspect, they view all the evidence through a lens of bias. Second, many suspects are often tried by the media and public opinion before they even step foot in a courtroom. Finally, if it turns out the prime suspect is innocent, it’s often decided only after their reputation has suffered irreparable damage. For Richard Jewell, his 15 minutes of fame turns into a never-ending nightmare overnight in this true story.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) spent most of his life trying to join law enforcement. As he laboured to realize his dream, he worked as a supply clerk where he met a lawyer named Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell). Richard then moved on to be a discredited security guard and police officer. However, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta offers a new opportunity for him to regain some prestige. Working security at an outdoor concert venue, Richard spots an abandoned backpack. When hundreds avoid injury after the suspicious package explodes, Richard is a hero… and then he becomes the investigation’s number one suspect.

Richard’s desire to please the people around him and fit in doesn’t really match his law enforcement ambitions. On the other hand, his strict adherence to the rules supersedes his nice guy inclinations and results in very polite requests for people to comply. However, these personality traits also fit the profile of a lone bomber and his deference for authority certainly doesn’t help his case. Luckily, Watson knows how to play hardball and has enough distrust of “the man” for both of them. Unfortunately, getting Richard to stop helping the FBI build a case against him is a difficult task.

Over the last couple of years, Hauser has been making an impression on audiences with these odd characters who are socially awkward and entangled in extraordinary situations. Even though the personalities he’s portrayed haven’t varied much, he’s certainly found a niche that works. Rockwell is terrific as Richard’s protector, while also claiming most of the humorous lines. Jon Hamm is a great adversary, leading the investigation and repeatedly tricking Richard into providing evidence. Yet, in spite of her lesser role, Kathy Bates consistently shines as Richard’s mother, Bobi. On the flipside, Olivia Wilde‘s portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs, who broke the story about the FBI’s investigation into Richard, seems a bit over-the-top as they attempt to place additional blame on the media.

Director Clint Eastwood‘s depiction of Richard’s story is unquestionably siding with the accused, but it’s still a fascinating story with captivating characters who draw in viewers. Of course, as is typically the case with the filmmaker, the movie runs a little over two hours and is likely a bit longer than is necessary, but it’s not that noticeable.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell and Jon Hamm

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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