ESP’s film critic Gavin Miller is settled on the sofa while the cinemas are shut and reviewing what’s on the small screen instead…
Clint Eastwood has a history of ‘underdog’ films with political overtures – and this one may have sadly slipped under the radar for some film fans.
Being briefly released cinematically at the end of January – combined with being Eastwood’s second-lowest opening box-office weekend release Stateside – has virtually let this intriguingly competent drama based on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing ‘come and go’ without trace.
But with some stand-out performances from Paul Walter Hauser as the lead star, along with Oscar winners Kathy Bates (who was Oscar-nominated for this) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), this is definitely worthy of attention – even if the project doesn’t quite live up to their performances.
Hauser stars as Richard Jewell, a heavy-set security guard who has always been aspiring to climb the law enforcement ladder – even getting fired by going beyond his jurisdiction for his law-abiding beliefs at Piedmont College.
On monitoring duty at Atlanta’s Centennial Park during a concert in July 1996 – in the midst of the Olympics being celebrated in the city – Jewell notices a suspicious package beneath a bench after chasing off some drunk revellers around the technical area on the site.
Despite his colleagues initially not taking the situation seriously, the ‘dedicated’ Jewell insists the package is ‘checked out’ and an explosives expert indeed confirms the backpack contains a pipe bomb. Police soon start to make a perimeter to push the crowd back, but then the bomb explodes sending nails cascading into people – killing one and injuring dozens.
So Jewell is hailed a national hero for his quick-thinking that inevitably saved lives, but this acclaim only lasts a couple of days until the FBI – with the investigation headed by Agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) – determine that he’s the ‘number one suspect’ after fitting the profile of a white male ‘wannabe’ police officer, seeking glory by rescuing people from a dangerous situation ‘they created themselves’. Which basically means the FBI also had nothing else to go on.
The story is quickly blown wide open by Olivia Wilde’s (Tron: Legacy) enigmatic reporter Kathy Scruggs at the Atlanta Journal, and soon Jewell’s house – in which he lives in with his doting Mum Bobi (Bates) – gets hundreds of media personnel permanently residing outside, as he goes from hero to zero overnight.
As Jewell enlists the help of former work colleague Watson Bryant (Rockwell) as his lawyer – who is also thrust from legal obscurity and into the limelight too – this slowly turns into a ‘trial by media’ as everyone assumes the security guard’s guilt.
This pushes the stresses of Bobi to the limit as their entire home is emptied for possible evidence – including Jewell’s suspicious-looking gun collection. They endure weeks of media scrutiny, without Jewell – who remains remarkably cordial to his accusers due to his perceived affiliation to ‘upholding the law’ – ever being officially charged for the potentially death penalty-accruing crime.
This leads to a solid and competent Eastwood offering that just ‘lacks that little something’ to stop it quite flowing as well as it should – with a few plot holes unanswered particularly surrounding Hamm’s agent Shaw and particularly Wilde’s Scruggs.
But via the intriguing title character played with alluring precision from Hauser – who you can’t help but empathise with – this still makes it a ‘jewel’ in Eastwood’s crown, if just one of the smaller ones.
ESP Rating: 3.5/5
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Ian Gomez & Nina Arianda
Running Time: 2 Hrs 11 Mins
Director: Clint Eastwood