Eastwood just seems to enjoying aging and being that old wine that just gets better and better with age. His latest, ‘Richard Jewell’, is a fine testimony to this. This is a fine achievement: He manages to shove-in his love of the NRA and the Republican party, but subversively, and in spite of this, he manages to direct and narrate a true-life story very hard-hittingly, and more importantly, humanely of person wronged by over-zealous security system.
The story is well-known so there’s no point in going over it again: In brief, however, it’s the true-story of a security guard at the Centennial Olympic park in Atlanta, Georgia, working at the 1996 Olympics event who saves lives with his timing, is praised for just about 3 days and made a national hero, and then hounded by the press, the FBI, and the US Government for 88 days as the planter of pipe-bomb filled bag and faking discovering the bag and hence, falsely-earning a hero’s place.
Eastwood directs the film almost as a docu-drama: There are grainy news-reels, the old television sets, those cell-phones, the days folks used to remember their friends’ and folks’ phone numbers and not dump them into the ‘Contacts’ section. He gets all the technical and visual aspects of the ’90s America right as well as the pop-culture references, including Kenny Rogers performance at the Centennial Park. On the screen, things move on as they would have moved on in an otherwise unexciting life of Richard Jewell; slow, steady at first, and then, a tumultuous ride – but a ride that is experienced by Richard as per his life’s experiences, his nature, his body-language, and his emotional reactions and outbursts; not at our greedy expectations of the cinematic medium.
Paul Walter Hauser’s performance is so economical, so controlled, it’s a delight to watch. It’s so difficult—at least from what I have learnt/seen from the movies that I visited over the years—to play a normal guy: In the sense, what is it that the actor can give to the audience as memorabilia? What Paul gives here is the hidden restlessness of every common man to take home: On the surface, a guy over-eager about his country, patriotism, law-enforcement, but inwardly, still aware, and still struggling with, and perhaps, probably fully aware, that he would be like that till his death. His reactions to when some New York publisher wants to publish a book on his ‘heroics’ are priceless and convey the exultations of a person who’s been always a ‘common’ man just doing his job. The scene where he first shows his inner pain, when his lawyer asks him to feel angry is so brilliantly enacted and shot: When Sam Rockwell, playing his lawyer playing Watson Bryant, asks him to show some ‘anger’, Richard just explodes; and it actually feels like an implosion rather than an explosion and a culmination of what’s been going on in his life. Apart from the insults to his physicality that he’d been facing throughout his life, his inner troubles of facing the usual brunt of societal conclusions, for sure in the American way – a) Not yet married? Homo-sexual b) No girl-friend? Homo-sexual c) Still staying with your mom? A serial-killer or a pedophile – of fitting the profile of being a ‘white frustrated male.’ It is both tragic and hilarious to see him help the very authorities, the FBI, who are out to tarnish him! When the FBI comes swarming into his home, he tells them to let him know if they need to find anything in his house!! And Sam Rockwell’s face is a treasure-house of frustrated emotion! What the hell do I do with this guy? But all that Richard embodies and believes in is: ‘I have been raised to respect the authorities.’ [Also, look at how Richard stands when Walter walks with him to the Atlanta Journal office; through-out, he stands with his back to Olivia Wilde’s Kathy Scruggs! Amazing!]
Kathy Bates is dignity personified, and it’s a superb act by her as the mother of Richard Jewell. Her performanc- arc portraying the joy from being the mother of a ‘hero’ for 3 days to being the mother of a so-called villain is highly impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if awards were reserved for her, for she deserves some at least. Through the usual mechanical cores of baking, of watching a show on a TV, of answering the door-bell or the phone, she conveys all that’s needed to for the portrayal of an anguished mother. [Eastwood, again, uses her very effectively; during the press-conference speech, she tries to but controls her tears, and when she pauses for a few-seconds, the clicks of the cameras go wild – more clicks when the victim is crying rather than when she is talking: Get Eastwood’s middle-finger at the press?]
Rockwell rocks as the almost case-less lawyer happy eating pistachios and walking around in shorts. He molds the character as a ‘seen-that’, ‘been-there’ performance and does it superbly. With his glasses almost always falling down on his chin, he manages to instill in you the same frustrated faith that he instilled in Richard Jewell; some-where, this might be the guy who could help Jewell get exonerated. Jon Hamm is good but his usual self as the guy caught between his belief and need that he wants Richard to be the planter and his conscience that this guy can’t be.
The one place where Clint is facing the heat is the portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs. Her character does come across as an arrogant snob who uses her beauty to get information any-how. Her calling Richard a ‘fat-f!@#’ who lives with his mother’, amplifies that and in general, tells one what America thinks of people who love and live to take care of their parents.
In the end, this is the film made by a skilled film-maker who very smartly marries his politics in a way that doesn’t come across as cheesy. Walter asks, ‘Are you a part of any fringe groups, like the KKK or NRA?’ Richard replies: ‘Is NRA a fringe group?’
P.S.: The only thing that bothered me was the blunder of FBI. If a news reporter and a lawyer can deduce that it couldn’t have been Richard who planted with just a timed-walk, how couldn’t they? Was it because they just wanted a scape-goat?