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Front Page - Friday, December 20, 2019

Critic's Corner: Hauser, Bates help ‘Richard Jewell’ overcome flaws

“Richard Jewell” is a biographical film that seeks to publicly exonerate the security guard who found a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and alerted the authorities. Although Jewell’s actions were initially said to have saved lives, the FBI later accused of him of building and placing the device.

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, and based on a 1997 Vanity Fair article titled “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” and the 2019 book “The Suspect,” “Richard Jewell,” this is an unevenly made but powerfully acted film.

There are moments in “Richard Jewell” when Eastwood demonstrates great skill at using film to tell a story. This includes a scene in which Jewell’s mother, Barbara, speaks during a news conference.

Eastwood shows her in close-up as the clicking of cameras is heard in the background. When she breaks down and cries, the clicking dramatically increases.

You might not agree with what Eastwood is saying about the media’s part in Jewell’s story, but there’s no denying this is a clever use of sound.

Eastwood also hits the right emotional notes at the right times. I was not expecting “Richard Jewell” to be as moving as it is, but the film is a touching portrait of Jewell and those who supported him through his ordeal.

Eastwood does so many things right in “Richard Jewell” that I hate to bring up the things he did wrong. But since that’s my job, I’ll mention that several scenes – including the bombing itself – have a clunky quality that undercuts the drama. Also, the timing of the actors occasionally seems off, as though not enough film was trimmed before they reacted or spoke.

Also, the portrayal of the late Kathy Scruggs as a reporter who will sleep with a source to get a scoop feels exaggerated.

In real life, Scruggs broke the story that the FBI was investigating Jewell. In the movie, she plies the information out of an agent by offering to have sex with him.

Whether or not this happened, Olivia Wilde’s performance as Scruggs seems to have been based on a stereotype, not a real person, and the film (and the memory of Scruggs, if this detail is untrue) suffers as a result.

Despite the lopsided quality of “Richard Jewell,” actor Paul Walter Hauser’s performance as Jewell gives the film a strong anchor when things get choppy.

Jewell, the movie explains, was a socially awkward man who took his responsibilities as a security guard to extremes. (An early scene shows him enforcing a no-alcohol policy on a college campus and then getting fired.) The film also suggests he lacked understanding of personal boundaries and had a consuming interest in guns and law enforcement.

Although Jewell was a security guard during the period of time the film covers, he insisted he was in law enforcement, making him the butt of rent-a-cop jokes.

But “Richard Jewell” also portrays its protagonist as a loving son, a good friend and a sincere individual. And, when it came to the bombing, his strict adherence to protocol saved lives, Eastwood argues.

Hauser does a remarkable job of capturing every aspect of Jewell’s personality. From his self-conscious mannerisms, to the way he fumbles for words, to his perfectly timed emotional bursts, Hauser so perfectly embodies Jewell that the mask of his performance disappears and he seems to become the man he’s portraying.

Hauser’s performance is so convincing, when Eastwood slips in footage of the actual Jewell (as I believe he does when he shows the Today Show’s Katie Couric interviewing him on television), the illusion is not broken.

Other actors in the film do equally phenomenal work, including Kathy Bates as Barbara and Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s lawyer. Even John Hamm, who plays the FBI version of Mad Men’s Don Draper, has some great moments.

Just when I think Eastwood had made his last great film (“The Mule” convinced me his best days as a director were behind him), he hits another home run.

Despite its flaws, “Richard Jewell” is a success, especially for Hauser and Eastwood. Not many people are taking the time to see it in theaters, but I hope those who read this column do.