During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, security guard Richard Jewell discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench in Centennial Park. With little time to spare, he helps to evacuate the area until the incendiary device inside the bag explodes. Hailed as a hero who saved lives, Jewell's own life starts to unravel when the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing.
There is nothing more infuriating for a lower-to-middle class person (such as myself) than watching someone get railroaded for caring and wanting to help people. To see someone persecuted and watch the blind trust they have - that the authorities have their best interests at heart - used against them, dragging their name through the mud. This is the true story of Richard Jewell.
Right out of the gate, we need to show appreciation for Paul Walter Hauser's performance as the titular character, Richard Jewell. Richard is a kind-hearted person that only wants to work hard, and help and protect people. These are super relatable and sympathetic character traits, and Paul Walter Hauser does an exceptional job as this naive, mild-mannered and surprisingly even-tempered man. There is such authenticity in the emotions that he portrays and the goodness in his heart, that the audience cannot help but go along for the ride and hope that things turn out well for the character.
The protagonists are really well portrayed, with some brilliant supporting performances from Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates. Bates plays Richard Jewell's mother, who is absolutely torn up emotionally at the prospect of losing her son. The real driving force of the film comes from the dynamics and relationship between Paul Walter Hauser's Richard Jewell, and Sam Rockwell's Watson Bryant. Where Richard has deeply-rooted respect and admiration for all law enforcement personnel, and an irrational willingness to do whatever it takes to help the agencies trying to hang him, Watson is the rational, but outspoken lawyer that has the answers, but has one arm tied behind his back by Richard's own actions. It's these opposing personalities that create a strong buddy-cop dynamic.
The antagonists in the film have much less depth, almost caricature-like, only missing a moustache to twirl, there is little humanity to Olivia Wilde's promiscuous reporter character, nor Jon Hamm's hammy and narrow-minded FBI agent. While attempts were made to give the reporter an arc, there isn't enough content to warrant any form of redemption.
Richard Jewell starts off on the slow side, jumping through time to give a brief backstory of the titular character, before beginning the measured journey towards the bombing. Once that point has been reached, the film's pacing picks up significantly, and not an issue for the remainder of the film. With a 131 minute runtime, Richard Jewell feels long, but never feels too long. Every action, every detail, it grabs your attention. It will make you want to research the event yourself afterwards to verify that the absurd actions actually occurred. There is nothing too flashy from Yves Belanger in terms of cinematography, and Arturo Sandoval's musical score is very subtle, but the film does have a nice colourful palette that still has a desaturated look to it, which creates a nice period feel (1996 still feels very recent).
Thematically speaking this is the story of how a man was judged by the media and the government before facts were determined, which leads to cherry-picking information that conforms to the preconceived idea. Providing a very detailed visual display of the negative effects misinformation can have on the accused's life (and that of friends and family too). The newspapers were a powerful media form in those days, with their readers trusting everything printed as 100% fact. Nowadays, the transition has occurred to online sources but with that extra accessibility, the damage that can be done by the court of public perception has grown significantly despite the reliability and frequency of misinformation being much higher. With the anonymous nature of the internet, it's timely to have this visual reminder of the effects misinformation can have.
Richard Jewell has a level of injustice that twists your gut, with protagonists that you truly care about. Stellar performances from Hauser and Rockwell make you want to breakdown in desperation, finely balancing the tension and frustration with organic elements (mostly stemming from Richard's naivety and demeanour). The humour manages to diffuse the excess angst and emotion to keep things from getting too dark, while still maintaining a well-grounded story. Look past the non-descriptive film title, because this is well worth checking out. Incredibly powerful.
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"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs."
Joan Didion (1934 - ), 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem'