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 matched. “Richard Jewell” does not create an exception to this outstanding record, but I didn’t enjoy it very much, because it cut 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 reporter 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.
Jewel died a few years later at 44. The film has the reporter using her sexual allure to worm the information from the FBI man. That enticed 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.)
Eastwood assembled a stellar cast. Olivia Wilde plays the 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 may pick up 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 to help 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, word smith creator of “Hunger Games,” and “Captain Phillips,” 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 to such a shoddy fourth estate. That allows only four sawblades for “Richard Jewell.”
The two-hour and 11-minute film caries an R rating 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. Ouch!