I will sometimes forgive a film’s R rating if the director forgoes all the CGI effects and simply tells a good story. Twice in a row now, Clint Eastwood has done that. (His recent drug-cartel adventure, The Mule, is another quietly effective movie.) Richard Jewell shares the aching story of an earnest doofus accused of the Centennial Olympic bombings during the ’96 Atlanta Games.
Richard is the classic live-with-Mom antihero, chunky fast-food aficionado who turns off concertgoers with his hubris and strident orders. He’s a wannabe cop security guard lurching from one part-time gig to another when, hey, the Summer Games come into town. You know the story: he’s instrumental in spotting the suspicious bag, and then quickly becomes the main suspect. There’s a sordid cinema moment when an FBI investigator leaks Jewell’s name to a news reporter who trades promiscuous favors for whispered police intel.
There’s standout acting by Kathy Bates (Jewell’s mom) and his lawyer, nicely played by Sam Rockwell, who was wonderful in the world’s greatest film, The Green Mile. This is a quiet story where we already know the ending, but it’s sweet satisfaction when Jewell is finally cleared. Also nice when the news lady has her own come-to-Jesus moment, carefully pacing the distance from the bomb site to the nearest pay phone and then muttering to herself in awe: “He didn’t do it!”
In terms of the film’s R rating, yes, there is a sprinkling of harsh language in this saga populated by cops and hard-boiled news people. But the profanity is muted and overcome by the uplifting arc of Eastwood’s storytelling.
Two nice takeaways are these. Very quickly in the story, you sit in your theater seat groaning over the general ineptness of this guy. The main character is needlessly prickly; he mouths off and immediately is cast in an unsympathetic light: the private security mall cop so enthralled and power-hungry by his plastic badge he pulls people over on the freeway and berates them. Living with Mommy and consuming four thousand calories a day, mostly in the form of milkshakes . . . and that’s strikes two and three. And so many of us just carry around this inner pomposity where we disdain those who don’t have it quite as together as we do. But by the end of this story, I find myself chastised because Richard Jewell, despite his flaws, saved a whole bunch of lives. He endured something a lot more harrowing than I ever have, and yeah, he deserves for his noble story to be told. By Clint Eastwood, no less.
The second lesson is this. Even when injustice threatens to win out, with the wrong guy going to jail, God still knows. Heaven doesn’t miss a single clue. And it’s so nice, as the final credits roll, to read that a criminal named Eric Rudolph was the guilty party. Life imprisonment without parole, while Richard Jewell finally got the real Georgia Deputy Sheriff badge he had craved for so long.
You gotta love it.