RICHARD JEWELL: Another triumph for Eastwood ... and Paul Walter Hauser
Paul Walter Hauser’s amazing performance in “Richard Jewell” somehow got overlooked in the 2019 Golden Globe nominations -- and I sure hope Oscar season remedies this. I haven’t seen better work from a male actor in any film this year.
“Jewell” is director Clint Eastwood’s galvanizing tale of the titular security guard who in 1996 became a national hero when he saved many lives by pinpointing a home-made bomb in Atlanta. Three days later, Jewell suddenly became the prime suspect, and his life swiftly descended into chaos.
The minute Hauser steps onscreen, you can tell Jewell didn’t do it; he’s exactly the kind of modest, hard-working hero everyone initially thought he was. A trifle overzealous, perhaps -- but in the case of terrorist attacks, that is not a bad thing.
We watch Jewell cheerfully fulfilling his duties as supply clerk to Sam Rockwell’s fiery, idealistic lawyer, then slightly overstepping his bounds as a conscientious college security guard. He’s a red-state guy who loves guns, fast food, Kenny Rogers, Bundt cakes, Baptist church and his mom -- and the famously conservative Eastwood makes us like him a lot.
Since he’s always wanted a police career, it’s like a dream come true when Jewell’s methodical approach calls attention to the suspicious knapsack at a crowded concert; after this, a bomb squad is called and the throngs pushed back, resulting in only two deaths that night, rather than dozens. Jewell’s devoted mother -- masterfully played by an already-nominated Kathy Bates -- can hardly contain her pride and joy over the young man’s unexpected lionization.
And then all pleasure turns to fury as Atlanta’s Journal-Constitution announces the FBI is focusing on Jewell, who supposedly orchestrated the whole thing to call attention to himself.
In this film, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray go after the media the same way Donald Trump has gone after them since the 2016 election -- and they ain’t gonna like it.
I use this comparison advisedly, because the emotional button Trump pushes is the same one being used in this film, and it works. Yet while I share his disgust, the man sometimes plays loose with the facts -- and so does this movie. Among other things, there’s no indication that AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs -- who died in 2001 and cannot defend herself -- ever traded sex for information; in thus slandering her, this movie commits the very same sin it elsewhere condemns.
Olivia Wilde does her best work yet in this (almost) shameless role, and Rockwell is wonderful as the man who eventually takes on Jewell’s case and helps clear his name.
Yet it’s worth pointing out that Jewell also is now dead. Though the official cause was diabetes, one can’t help wondering whether this awful ordeal hastened his demise at the frightfully young age of 44.
With “Richard Jewell,” Eastwood is at his best; don’t let the unfamiliar title or non-holiday subject scare you away. It’s one of the year’s finest films, and certainly a story that needs to be heard.
* * * 1/2 (out of four)
directed by Clint Eastwood
Run time: 129 min.
Rated R for language