Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ Is Funnier Than You Expect

It’s remarkable that Clint Eastwood keeps directing a movie a year and they’re not just fluff. He keeps making substantial movies, often based on true stories. Richard Jewell tells the story of the Centennial Park security guard who discovered a bomb at a 1996 Olympics concert, only to become a suspect himself. 

The history of ‘Richard Jewell’

Richard Jewell begins in 1986 when Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) was only a supply room clerk. He made friends with G. Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) by anticipating his needs for tape and stocking his desk with Snickers bars. Jewell is kind and sweet, always thinking of how he can go the extra mile. That gets him in a little hot water as a campus security guard when he oversteps the jurisdiction of an academic position.

Clint Eastwood and Paul Walter Hauser
Clint Eastwood and Paul Walter Hauser on the set of Richard Jewell | Claire FolgerWarner Bros.

He’s still the same endearing Richard Jewell in 1996, giving a pregnant woman free water at the concert. When he discovers the bomb, he maintains an innocence in his newfound celebrity. All the attention is validating and he can’t even believe there are people like ghost writers who get paid to write your autobiography.

But then reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) seduces a tip out of FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) that the agency is considering Jewell a possible suspect. Scruggs runs that story and so the FBI doubles down on pursuing Jewell, and the media vilifies him.

Clint Eastwood finds the fun in ‘Richard Jewell’

Not only is this a travesty of a smear campaign, it all really happened to Richard Jewell. So where is there any fun to be had in his struggle? Well, Jewell calls in the only lawyer he knows, Watson Bryant who has a great sense of humor, and Rockwell is in his zone playing that role in a serious movie.

Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser | Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

Bryant calls out Jewell’s eccentricities and he sasses the FBI. That’s also the script by Billy Ray, but it’s Rockwell and Hauser’s performance and it’s Clint Eastwood embracing the absurdity of the most invasive FBI entrapment tactics. At the concert Eastwood shows a Macarena performance. The decision to put the Macarena back on the big screen shows a sense of humor.

‘Richard Jewell’ exonerates him by tearing down a woman

There’s one questionable aspect of the Richard Jewell movie. It portrays Kathy Scruggs as trading on her sexuality. She blatantly offers sex for tips to Tom Shaw, and succeeds. She also flamboyantly exhibits her physical assets in the newsroom and practically salivates over the tragic bombing hoping to find a story.

In real life, Kathy Scruggs was obviously wrong about Richard Jewell. She didn’t do due diligence and an innocent man and his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates) paid the price for her negligence. But was she overtly sexual about it? And if the research uncovered that she was, was it necessary for the story? 

Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Paul Walter Hauser
L-R: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Paul Walter Hauser | Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

The film even says Scruggs needs a male colleague to rewrite her, so all she has is a tip and a byline. The movie gives her an obligatory turn towards redemption near the end but it’s very sudden, unconvincing and too little too late.

The harrowing and endearing side of ‘Richard Jewell’

The bombing sequence is the most elaborate in Richard Jewell and it is tremendous. Clint Eastwood lets the camera move through the concert and behind the scenes. It’s elegant and also shows the geography of the event so the audience can get a sense of the proximity and danger of the bomb. That’s also hundreds of real extras making up the crowd. They’re not faking it on a green screen.

Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell
Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell | Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

Hauser honors the late Richard Jewell with pride. Jewell keeps giving the FBI the benefit of the doubt the more invasive they get because he’s that idealistic that law enforcement means well. He’s not as gullible as they think he is. Jewell catches on when the FBI tries to entrap him under false pretenses, although they just try harder to trick him later.

Come the end of the year, when it’s time for “important movies” up for awards, Richard Jewell is certainly an important story. His story is an example of why the public should be skeptical, ask questions and not be so quick to accept the official story. This movie isn’t a downer to watch over the holidays though. It’s a celebration of Richard Jewell and his supportive family and friends.