Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Rating: **** (4 stars)
At an age when most of us would be on a rocking chair, Clint Eastwood is rocking. He continues to direct one fine film after another with no pause. Richard Jewell is one of his finest directorial ventures. A gem of a film, right up there with Eastwood’s Mystic River, Unforgiven and Letters From Iwo Jima, Richard Jewell is what Eastwood revels in: the story of an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances.
Again, like many of his best films, this one too is based on true facts. Richard Jewell an overweight 34-year old slob with a bloated self-worth and an incommensurate opinion on his powers of authority Jewel became a local star when, serving as a security personnel at an opinion-air event in his hometown Atlanta, he discovers a ticking bomb planted at the venue. Overnight he becomes a celebrity, just what he wanted. But hang on. The FBI, in all its wisdom, decides to pin the terror-act on Jewel.
The film, narrated in vividly framed episodes conveying controlled emotional volumes, is a marvel of profound observations and light direction. Eastwood’s casting has always been bang-on. Even when he casts himself he does so only when needed. To cast a relatively unknown Paul Walter Hauser in the title role in Richard Jewell is a masterstroke. Hauser is a spitting-image of the real Richard Jewel (you can check this out in the internet interviews with the actual Jewel).
On top of that, Hauser is a very fine actor. He captures both the pomposity and the innocence of this victim of the establishment’s apathy. As played by Hauser, Richard Jewel is not just a victim he’s also an annoying reminder of how easy it is for the Government to target you if you step on the bureaucracy (curled) toes.
Eastwood’s brilliant screenwriter Billy Ray ferrets out the core of Richard Jewel’s emotional reservoir through his relationship with his mother and lawyer, played by the ever-dependable Kathy Bates and Sam Rockwell who propel forward the rather sobering story of a loser suddenly blessed with fame. There are two other vital characters, the FBI chief played by the unfortunately named star Jon Hamm (who’s anything but a ham) and Olivia Wilde who plays the demonized almost cartoonish journalist willing to bend to any extent for a scoop.
Wisely the narration never gets hot and bothered under its collar. The tone remains calm even as all hell breaks loose around Jewel. What we see in this mellow moving morality tale is a man who is trapped in the pursuit of a self-worth that comes to him suddenly and throws his life off-gear.
It’s not an easy place to be in. Being a faceless working class non-achiever is fate. Beware of forces that ruffle up the stagnant status quo.