By Megan Bianco
The real-life story of security guard Richard Jewell during the Atlanta Olympics bombing is interesting and worthy of a movie adaptation. But the combination of this story and Clint Eastwood’s preferences as a filmmaker aren’t the perfect match. Richard Jewell may have a great cast, but its script leaves a lot to be desired.
Clint Eastwood is a good director and a strong actor, of course. But his politics has a reputation for dividing movie viewers, and the script reflects that.
In 1996 Atlanta, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) dreams of becoming a police officer and has all the interest, dedication and knowledge. But he keeps facing setbacks that eventually lead him to a job as a security guard at Centennial Park during the Olympics.
While working a concert, Richard notices a bag left unattended under one of the benches. When his initial assumption that the bag could be holding a bomb is proven correct, he and the rest of the cops successfully escort the majority of the crowd out of danger. He’s treated as a hero, but only a day later both the FBI and the media label him the top suspect.
Richard Jewell’s supporting cast includes Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother, Sam Rockwell as his lawyer and friend, Jon Hamm as the FBI agent investigating the bombing, and Olivia Wilde as Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs.
Eastwood’s picture is a lot more anti-government than it is anti-media, despite the accusations going around since its premiere. But the biggest flaw in the film is still Wilde’s portrayal of Scruggs. It’s not so much her performance, but how it was written and directed.
We see her being crass, flipping off co-workers and using promiscuity to better her career, with low-cut tops and constant bed hair. I don’t know anyone who could get away with behaving like this in any professional setting, let alone a newsroom.
Even if this might be allegedly close to the real Scruggs, who prematurely died in 2001 and isn’t here to see how she’s portrayed, it feels like her persona is used more as an embellished excuse to make her an antagonist. It’s distracting and awkward.
One thing that holds some of Eastwood’s modern films back is his dependence on typical Hollywood good guy vs. bad guy structure. Because of his age and lengthy career, he’s been around long enough to remember when the majority of mainstream movies had an obligatory hero and villain.
While there will always be protagonists and antagonists in fiction, and there definitely are here, Wilde and Hamm’s roles are so cartoon-like and off tone that they work against the feature. It’s a shame because Hauser is a good actor and gives a fine performance, as does Kathy Bates.
Screenwriter Billy Ray delivered the underrated Shattered Glass (2003), but has also penned mediocre schlock like Volcano (1997) and Gemini Man (2019), and toggles between both qualities here.
The real case of Richard Jewell is fascinating and has a lot to say about bias and ignorance, but the screen version is a missed opportunity.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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