Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Clint Eastwood's "Richard Jewell" a great portrait of a humble hero

Dec 10, 2019 11:21PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell - © 2019 Warner Bros.

Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.

Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Ian Gomez, Dylan Kussman, Wayne Duvall, Mike Pniewski, Nina Arianda.

Written by Billy Ray, based on "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell" by Marie Brenner.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.



There are few films that get me angry. I usually know when my emotions are being manipulated, so I don’t fall for narratives that editorialize. I’m the same with politics since most sources cannot be trusted, catering to whichever echo chamber that pays the bills. The true saga of Richard Jewell, the security guard who was falsely accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta is one of those rare situations that really gets my dander up.

Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell, a man who wanted nothing more than to be a police officer. After being a little overanxious about the rule of law, Jewell bounced around from a few law enforcement and security jobs before hiring on as part of the security team for the 1996 Atlanta games. After Richard discovers a backpack near a concert tower inside the Centennial Plaza, he helps other officers with crowd control. A bomb is found inside the pack, which explodes, killing two people and injuring many more. At first, Jewell is lauded as a hero, but without any leads, the FBI investigators turn their attention to the man who found the bomb as their leading suspect. Their premise is that Jewell planted the bomb so he could set himself up as a hero. Agent Tom Shaw (John Hamm, playing a fictional composite of real agents) leaks their theory to Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution-Journal. Scruggs and her editors run with the story, without verifying any of the claims against Jewell. The roller coaster experience for Richard takes its toll on his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), whose life is overrun by constant media coverage outside their shared apartment. Richard calls on Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), the only attorney he ever knew to represent him. As Bryant works to help Richard reclaim his reputation, the FBI doubles down on its weak case against him, digging into every part of his work history, friendships, and acquaintances. As the truth comes to light, Richard must summon all his courage to confront the false accusations and try to restore his dignity in the face of a national media frenzy.

Richard Jewell is an excellent movie with a great performance by Paul Walter Hauser (you may recognize him as the guy who clubbed Nancy Kerrigan in 2017’s I, Tonya). His characterization of a man who respects law enforcement even when being falsely accused is perfect, personifying an authentic “everyman” without any pretense. Clint Eastwood’s understated directional style is perfect for this kind of drama, drawing out the human elements of a story we thought we already knew. Sam Rockwell also provides another great supporting performance, along with Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde.

One of the most beautiful moments in the movie happens when Richard stands up for himself to the FBI without playing up his victim status. He thoughtfully and calmly reminds the agents of their duties and responsibilities to uphold the law and protect people; something they had failed to do up to that point. It is such a graceful expression in the face of injustice for a simple man like Jewell to hold onto his core values, even when those who should be defending them abandon him. It’s a moment that made me less angry about what happened to Jewell, and a thoughtful reminder of the power each of us has to make a better choice, even when we have every excuse to lash out in anger.

"Richard Jewell" Trailer