Clint Eastwood has made a lengthy string of films that have achieved both high acclaim and solid profits, and at an age when most of us are battling trout or watching “Matlock.” He turns 90 this year.
Each of his later films has a polished, gem-like quality that very few directors have managed to match. “Richard Jewell” does not create an exception to this outstanding record. But we in the seats do not enjoy it very much. It cuts too close to the bone.
In 1996 a nut job (now in the Colorado super-max prison, released only upon death) set off a pipe bomb at the Atlanta Olympic Games, killing three and harming many. In a carefully-crafted telling of the tale we get to watch as an ambitious newspaper woman gets her front page story by, well by turning out fiction. Public forces that she unleashes encourage the FBI to focus on “Richard Jewell,” a decent man of limited abilities who first discovered the bomb and certainly saved the lives of many by his firm, fast action. Between them, the press and the FBI put him through 88 days of psychic hell before giving up on him as a suspect.
Jewell died a few years later, too young at 44. The film has the reporter using her sexual allure to worm the information from the FBI man. That leak led to the destruction of a man who should have as his legacy a reputation as a life saver. (The real life reporter disputes the details as shown in the film.)
Director Clint Eastwood assembled a stellar cast. Olivia Wilde plays the under ethically-challenged reporter with sass and flair. I never doubted that she could get any information she needed from just about any guy, FBI or not. Oscar winner Kathy Bates was nominated for another Golden Gizmo for her portrayal of the slimed hero’s mother. Another great performance comes from Oscar winner Sam Rockwell as a hard as iron lawyer, just the guy we would want help from when we get in a jam.
But Hollywood veteran Paul Walter Hauser takes the plum role as “Richard Jewell” himself. He plays Jewell, rightly from all reports, as a regular Joe doing his limited best in a big world. He never really grasped that the FBI might honest-to-Pete frame him for the bombing. Hauser has a striking resemblance to the actual security guard.
Billy Ray, wordsmith creator of “Hunger Games,” and “Captain Philips,”wrote the script.
I call this an important film, brilliantly crafted but not a film I enjoyed. I feel like “Richard Jewell” himself. I have a hard time coming to grips with institutions, the press and the FBI, that I admire so much, coming stooping to such a shoddy ends. That allows only four sawblades for “Richard Jewell.” The two hour and 11 minute film carries an R for violence, adult situations and bad words.
Eastwood, Leonardo Di Caprio and Jonah Hill all pitched in their own money as producers. The film cost them some $45 million to make but has only taken in $34 million at the box office.