Clint Eastwood follows up last year’s The Mule with Richard Jewell in a rhyming couplet worthy of his brother, Tim Westwood.
The true story of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, Richard Jewell follows the security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) who discovered the explosives only to be named the prime suspect by the FBI and the media. There are Trump parallels in the timing of this movie, but the focus is on a man’s faith in authority shaken until it blows up; “They aren’t the United States government,” Jewell’s lawyer (a Max Cherryish Sam Rockwell) says of the FBI investigators, “they’re just three pricks who work for the United States government.”
Hauser carries this arc with natural humour and convincing naivety, his relationship with his mother (Kathy Bates) grounding the drama where other aspects feel less authentic. The film suggests that the late reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) traded sex for information (and worse, wore a necklace with her name on it), based on little beyond the notion that you can’t libel the dead. You can however defame a newspaper, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reportedly suing the movie; not a great idea considering how much damage they caused, though it is odd for a film that warns against accusations without evidence to level some of its own.
Even more perplexing is how the 89-year-old director is still able to command such energy and intelligence, as expert in handling the scale of the bomb sequences as the humour and heartbreak in the domestic scenes. His conservative perspective is valuable, challenging and well-considered, even if we disagree over who might be the real pricks who work for the United States government.