Father time is undefeated. And like a professional athlete who’s showing signs that they can’t quite keep up with a younger generation of competitors, Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood’s latest offering leaves me questioning how much quality filmmaking the 89-year-old has left in him. In typical Eastwood fashion, he places his sights on the true story of title character, Richard Jewell, the security guard and cop-wannabe who became a controversial figure following the bombing of the 1996 Olympics at Centennial Park in Atlanta. Eastwood uses Jewell’s heartbreaking experiences as an exposé on the careless and destructive behaviors of the mainstream media, the film’s clear antagonist. Yet, what transpires feels more like the incoherent grumblings of a miserable old man than an enlightening and eye-opening examination of what’s actually a legitimate issue.
Richard (I, Tonya’s Paul Walter Hauser) is a poor, overweight security guard with such a deep-rooted desire to protect people that it leads to some questionable behaviors that cost him a couple jobs along the way. But when Richard jumps on the opportunity to help protect his country at the security-needy 1996 Olympics, he can’t possibly prepare himself for the horrors that he’ll encounter after he stumbles across a bag of explosives. Richard Jewell may have saved countless lives by diligently doing his job on that fateful evening, but his sketchy past and a lack of other leads make him a prime suspect and anti-hero that a local journalist, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), completely exploits with her reckless reporting.
Clint Eastwood’s film is a revolving conundrum. His intentions are deliberate, but meandering. His interpretation is clear, but clouded in hypocrisy. All of which make Richard Jewell a muddled mixed-bag of ideas and emotions. Eastwood waves a shameful finger at the news media and its desire for higher ratings and career-advancements built on the back of inconsiderate reporting. The film even goes as far as to accuse the now-deceased journalist Kathy Scruggs of obtaining private information from the F.B.I. by sleeping with an agent (played by Jon Hamm), none of which has ever been corroborated publicly, and this blatant disregard for truth and authenticity feels awfully hypocritical when you take into account the root of Eastwood’s story. It’s a back-handed low-blow by the director and his screenwriter, Billy Ray, who attempt to tackle the media’s obsession with releasing a story quickly rather than accurately, and the personal ramifications of those actions. Richard Jewell lived a grueling 88-day nightmare in the aftermath of the Olympic bombing, one in which he morphed from an instant hero to a devilish mastermind in the blink of an eye. In fact, this is the film’s most accomplished feat, hammering this burden and personal anguish into the viewer. However, Eastwood’s characterization of nearly every other facet of the story is shallow, superficial and deceptively inaccurate. Richard Jewell has the hopes of making an awards season splash but I’m not buying into this likelihood, even after Kathy Bates’ recent Golden Globe Nomination for her supporting turn as the security guard’s mother. Instead, Richard Jewell is another ho-hum effort from a once legendary filmmaker struggling to deliver a cohesive story in the twilight of his career.