I’ll admit that I wasn’t especially looking forward to Richard Jewell. Clint Eastwood’s run as a director in the early 2010s was streaky at best, and after the middling Sully I’ll admit to skipping both The 15:17 to Paris and The Mule. As the rare director in Hollywood with right-wing politics, I wasn’t convinced he was the best-positioned to tell the story of a security guard who discovered a bomb and became the suspect in a trial by media piloted by over-zealous FBI agents.
I shouldn’t have been so pessimistic. Richard Jewell is a gripping film, an example of Eastwood exercising his humanistic prowess. While the outlines of the screenplay lean towards a simplistic story of fame-hungry journalists and myopic feds, Eastwood’s gentle touch steers it towards sympathy at every turn.
There’s nothing fancy about the film’s style, which draws upon archival footage to sustain a sense of realism, but it’s consistently elevated by an excellent cast. Kathy Bates might have picked up the Oscar nomination for her work as Jewell’s put-upon mother, but for me she was overshadowed by Paul Walter Hauser in the lead and, particularly, Sam Rockwell as his unconventional lawyer and friend. Eastwood at his best.