True-life drama Richard Jewell 'restores Clint Eastwood's stature as a gifted humanist director'

Jon Hamm as FBI Agent Tom Shaw, Ian Gomez as FBI Agent Dan Bennet and Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell
Damon Smith

THE media's character assassination of a socially awkward yet resolutely well-intentioned loner casts a dark shadow over the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in Richard Jewell.

Based on a Vanity Fair article and a subsequent book, The Suspect, by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen, director Clint Eastwood's quietly indignant drama is a stark reminder of how easily rumour and supposition can be mistaken for "fact".

Scriptwriter Billy Ray distils three months of trial by media and at least one potential violation of Jewell's civic rights into a compelling character study anchored by a winning performance from Paul Walter Hauser as the do-gooder, who pursues public service with a tenacity that errs uncomfortably close to obsession.

Sam Rockwell is terrific as the down-on-his-luck lawyer, who is hired to pick at the seams of the FBI's conduct and restore lustre to Jewell's unfairly tarnished reputation.

Meanwhile, Kathy Bates is deservedly Oscar-nominated for her heartrending portrayal of Jewell's besieged mother, who feels humiliated by searches of her home in full view of clamouring TV reporters.

"They went through my underthings," she sobs to her son. "How much indignity do they want us to take?"

For more than a decade, Richard Jewell (Hauser) dreams of a role in law enforcement.

In 1996, he is proud to work as a security guard at the 26th Summer Olympics in his home city of Atlanta.

During a concert in Centennial Park on the middle weekend of the Games, Jewell spots an unattended bag and raises the alarm.

His swift and decisive action saves countless lives and he is anointed a hero.

FBI Agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and partner FBI Agent Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez) come under intense pressure to apprehend the bomber.

They incorrectly identify Jewell as a suspect because his profile "fits the hero-bomber to a T".

Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), a hard-nosed journalist with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, trades on her potent sexuality to extract confidential information from Shaw and splashes the FBI's suspicions about Jewell across the front page.

The FBI is forced to respond, calling Jewell in for questioning under false pretences while a voracious media pack swarms around the home of his disbelieving mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates).

As public opinion wavers, the grossly maligned loner hires lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) to refute the bogus accusations.

Richard Jewell restores Eastwood's stature as a gifted humanist director after a painfully misconceived reenactment of another terrorist outrage in The 15:17 To Paris.

The problematic and hotly disputed depiction of Scruggs, who burns white hot courtesy of Wilde's performance, doesn't extinguish the fire in the film's belly about presumed innocence.

The truth many set you free but it can also chain you tightly to suspicion.

Rating: 7/10

RICHARD JEWELL (15, 131 mins) Thriller/Romance. Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Ian Gomez, Nina Arianda. Director: Clint Eastwood.

Released: January 31

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