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Richard Jewell movie review: Hero in the Villain

Richard Jewell movie review: It is the kind of hero Clint Eastwood's films are made of: a quintessential ordinary American fellow, who loves his guns plus other 'traditional' values, who is driven by his sense of duty, and who is mistreated by the system.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi |
Updated: January 4, 2020 8:21:37 am
Richard Jewell Richard Jewell movie review: Paul Walter Hauser is brilliant in his portrayal of Richard Jewell.

Richard Jewell movie cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde
Richard Jewell movie director: Clint Eastwood
Richard Jewell movie rating: 3 stars

Richard Jewell is the kind of hero Clint Eastwood’s films are made of: a quintessential ordinary American fellow, who loves his guns plus other ‘traditional’ values, who is driven by his sense of duty, and who is mistreated by the system. Richard Jewell is also a real-world hero, having detected a bomb at a park in Atlanta while the Olympic Games were on in the city in 1996, in time to save potentially scores of casualties. The two, Eastwood and Jewell, one can say are made for each other.

That said, this is a rare empathetic portrayal on screen of a young man who is both overweight and an underachiever, who lives with his mother, and who is thrust into media spotlight, as Jewell was. Hauser is brilliant in his portrayal of a man who genuinely desires to “protect lives” and hence joins law enforcement, and who keeps his small ambition alive by ignoring slights over it. You even forgive him for crossing boundaries such as barging into college hostel rooms in his enthusiasm to enforce campus discipline, while employed as a security guard.

As Jewell’s status quickly changes from a hero to a suspect in the Atlanta park attack, as he fits the lone bomber profile of a white, gun-loving man with a police/military background and knowledge of explosives and desire to be a hero, Jewell heartbreakingly holds onto both his faith in the government and his dignity.

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However, Eastwood has little time for others in the story of Jewell. Rockwell is a cliche as Jewell’s righteous, laid-back, do-good lawyer, Bryant; while Bates is basically Jewell’s anchor as his supportive, loving mother. The reporter who rushed ahead with an FBI leak that they were investigating Jewell for the bomb, Scraggs (Wilde), thus destroying his life, however, is horribly treated. Apart from her high heels, short skirts, deep-cut blouses, the film suggests that the only way Scraggs knows how to get a story is solicit sex with her source (and insult other women colleagues). The paper she worked for has threatened legal action against Eastwood for this.

To those who know Eastwood and his oeuvre, neither Jewell’s nor Scragg’s portrayal should come as a surprise. Some have called Richard Jewell the most political of his films, speaking both to Eastwood’s Libertarian anti-government instincts and his Conservative all-American ones. It also fits right in with a post-Trump era.

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