Clint Eastwood

Richard Jewell review: Clint Eastwood offers “compelling tale of unlikely hero”

What would you do if the institutions you swore to uphold made you a tortured victim?

Cinematic icon Clint Eastwood returns with a new true story in Richard Jewell, the tale of the eponymous self-important security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) who saves numerous lives when he discovers a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and manages to warn the public before more can be killed by the explosion.

However, after the incident, suspicion soon falls onto Richard himself and the corruption in the FBI and its toxic relationship with US media leads to the existences of Richard and his loved ones becoming a living hell. But did Richard really set the bomb off and cause the disaster to claim glory as a hero?

Despite its rather simplistic moral stance and clear-cut examination of heroes and villains, Eastwood ensures that Richard Jewell is a thoroughly entertaining and emotionally involving watch – mostly made possible through the winning performances.

Hauser makes Jewell a naive and easily-led figure, one who is easy to empathise with and mock, placing the audience in a place similar to how he would be assessed by the general population in the story. Child-like, ignorant, and oddly noble, Jewell is a fascinating character and the film’s more personality-focused moments with him prove to be most engaging.

In fact, Hauser’s work is enough to distract the audience from Eastwood’s heavy-handed attack of both government institutions and the mainstream media – which in and of itself will also cause offence to some.

The best performance, however, lies with Kathy Bates as Barbara “Bobi” Jewell, Richard’s endlessly supportive mother who begins to feel an emotional toll as he is crucified by the media and harassed by the authorities. Elevating what is a rather thin role, Bates gives a humane and natural touch to what could be just cliche.

Other reliable supporting turns are given from a stoic and prickly Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s principled lawyer, Jon Hamm at his most contemptible as a crooked FBI agent, and a positively fiery Olivia Wilde as real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs, who is willing to do whatever it takes to get a scoop.

However, the portrayal of Scruggs is so inaccurate and offensive in its perpetuating of clichés regarding female journalists that it’s a shame Wilde was given such contemptible and one-dimensional material. This is the film’s chief stumbling block that still manages to work somewhat thanks to what the actress does with the part.

Yet ultimately, Eastwood does not go in for stylistic excess – bar some sequences of distress for Richard – and instead lets the gripping story sit with the talented cast and makes the most of the affecting aspects of the material.

A worthy addition to the icon’s filmography that is steeped in melancholy and rage against the machine.


Richard Jewell is a fascinating and gripping account of a real-life hero being persecuted by the corrupt powers he had always respected. Clint Eastwood’s drama contains terrific performances but the best work lies with Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother.

Richard Jewell is released in UK cinemas on January 31, 2020.

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