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Blu-ray Review: Richard Jewell

March 17, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Richard Jewell was a security guard in Atlanta who always dreamed of being in law enforcement, and finally got his moment when he saved countless lives while he was on duty at Centennial Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics, and spotted a suspicious bag under a bench that turned out to be concealing three pipe bombs.

Jewell helped police officers secure the area, mitigating the impact of the deadly explosion. He was rightfully lauded as a hero, until the FBI started investigating him for planting the bomb, which leaked to the media, and caused him to be crucified in the court of public opinion, effectively ruining his life despite being an innocent man.

The true story of Richard Jewell (played by Paul Walter Hauser) is told in director Clint Eastwood’s eponymous film, Richard Jewell. The first part of the film depicts the lead up to and the bombing itself, meticulously recreating the events surrounding it through gripping scenes filmed at the actual locations. We then shift focus to the aftermath of this life-changing event, as Jewell and his mother Bobbi (Kathy Bates), whom he lived with at the time, are forced into the middle of an insane media circus.

Things start snowballing out of control when the FBI agent, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), who is heading up the investigation against him, leaks the story to Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who, in the film at least, seduces Shaw into giving her the tip that Jewell is being treated as a suspect. Working alongside his lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who keeps advising him to keep quiet as he has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth as he eagerly tries to help the law enforcement officers that he has spent his life looking up to, Jewell works to prove his innocence.

Working from a screenplay by Billy Ray, (which was adapted from Marie Brenner’s article American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell and Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen’s book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle), Eastwood uses the story of Richard Jewell to craft a timely film about the failures of law enforcement officers who would rather convict an innocent man without adequate evidence rather than admit they can’t find the real culprit, and a news media that is more concerned with being first rather than being right.

What makes Richard Jewell so effective is that it’s the story of a man who fundamentally does the right thing, only to then get blamed for it, and this well told tale of a hero who was made out to be the villain by law enforcement and the media makes for compelling drama. The film is very well acted by the whole ensemble cast, with character actor Paul Walter Hauser moving out of the supporting roles he has come to be known for in acclaimed films like I, Tonya and BlacKkKlansman to deliver a believable and, most importantly, empathetic performance in the lead. This is his best work yet.

Hauser is backed up by strong turns in particular from Rockwell and Bates, who got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Richard’s headstrong mother. I do think that Wilde’s role could have been fleshed out more, and the portrayal of Scruggs has been one of the main points of contention that critics have had with the film. But overall, Richard Jewel is a sturdy and engaging adult drama from Eastwood, that often plays with a sense of rightful indignation as it serves to right some of the wrongs committed against its maligned title subject, building towards an emotional final few scenes.

The Blu-ray also includes the two worthwhile featurettes The Making of Richard Jewell and The Real Story of Richard Jewell.

Richard Jewell is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 131 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: March 17th, 2020

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