You can barely go a week without another film being released that’s “Based on a True Story” but considering that Richard Jewell’s is one that most British viewers won’t be familiar with, it keeps its intrigue, unless you google him before you see the film so do yourself a favour and don’t. In our age of constant outrage and injustice, it’s a great time to tell this story, a man who believed in law and order, in protecting people, a man who did his job and got a mountain of abuse and speculation in return. In saving the lives of hundreds of citizens in the 1996 Centennial Park bombing, he opened himself up to an investigation of whether he planted that bomb himself, to be considered a hero. Another harrowing story to come from Clint Eastwood, starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Ian Gomez, Nina Arianda and receiving her fourth Oscar nomination for this role, Kathy Bates.
Bates’s nomination is one that might come as a surprise to some, given that it’s the only nomination that the film has received but once you’ve seen her performance, it makes complete sense. Bates is an actress who never disappoints, Annie Wilkes clutching a sledgehammer is one of the most iconic images in film history and while this role may not be quite as timeless, it’s funny and full of emotion. Bates’s portrayal of Jewell’s mother feels in a similar vein as Regina King’s win last year for If Beale Street Could Talk, a mother that wants to protect their child and give them a better life. For a lot of the film Bates’s role is little quips and being supportive but as the film enters its final chapter, she gives a speech that will bring a tear to your eye and intensely feel the hardship that Bobi Jewell went through.
Then you’ve got Paul Walter Hauser, the film may have been called I, Tonya but it’s Allison Janney that won the Oscar and Hauser that was the most entertaining part, the role certainly pushed him into the mainstream and he was the perfect choice to play Richard. Richard is the classic example of a character who doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body, he wants to be cop, to protect and serve, and he loves his mother, so it’s extremely easy to sympathise with him, to want to shelter him from the reign of hate he encounters. Hauser fits so well in this role, it’s seamless and it’s almost a shame that Richard’s relentless determination to remain calm and respectful, may be what takes him out of the limelight for his performance, it’s simply not emotional enough for voters but it’s still charming to watch.
The writing is a highlight, there’s so many offhand comments and well timed observations, that it’s surprisingly funny throughout the whole film. There’s also some fantastic emphatic speeches from Sam Rockwell’s Watson, as Jewell’s lawyer, it seems quite possible that if the voters hadn’t gone crazy for The Irishman, Rockwell would have been looking at his third Oscar nomination in consecutive years. It’s also quite possible that you’ll never dislike Jon Hamm as much as you do in this role, whereas Olivia Wilde has publicly condemned the way her character was portrayed in the final version, coming across as a reporter who gets ahead by sleeping with sources. An interesting cross section between the two is a moment when Rockwell’s character insults the journalist by calling her “ambitious”, a term which is historically only used insultingly towards women, a male journalist in the same role would have likely been treated extremely differently, portrayed as determined rather than a cold-hearted slut, so Wilde’s frustrations with the final cut are understandable. Wilde’s character is given a small amount of redemption towards the end but it’s a little too late.
It’s exactly the sort of film that we’ve come to expect from Eastwood behind the camera but he’s skilled at putting a story like this on the big screen in a satisfying way, it’s possible there could have been a harder hitting adaptation of Jewell’s story but that isn’t this director’s style. Richard Jewell, both the character and the film, has a lot of heart and mostly side steps the darker aspects of the story to focus on the human interest side. The story stays mostly with the lighter angle, the violence of the bombing is only glanced upon in comparison with the violence you see in most films released in recent years. Ultimately, while it could be argued that it could have been made differently to further push the serious nature of the story, the style does feel as though it’s well fitted to its namesake and gives his story a genuine voice while being extremely entertaining to watch.