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Review: Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell' falls prey to the sensationalism it criticizes

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(Center) PAUL WALTER HAUSER as Richard Jewell in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “RICHARD JEWELL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo: Warner Bros.){ }

Richard Jewell
3 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Clint Eastwood
Writers: Marie Brenner (article), Billy Ray
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm
Genre: Drama
Rated: R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Richard Jewell, a security guard, discovers a bomb at the 1996 Olympics, saves numerous lives and becomes the prime suspect of the FBI’s investigation.

Review: In the wake of tragedy, we want answers. We want reasons and resolution. “Richard Jewell” is a film about ambition. Security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) all want something. What defines them is what they are willing to do to achieve their goals.

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Based on a true story, director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray have crafted a film where every one of the major characters have deep flaws. The writing and Hauser's performance as Jewell feels real and Rockwell’s character is given a fair amount of depth in the film’s second half. Kathy Bates has some great moments as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother. But there’s a sense of Hollywood exaggeration and over-simplification that obscures some of the other characters.

Hamm’s Agent Shaw feels like a generic placeholder and Wilde’s Scruggs is problematic from the start. In all the newsrooms that I have worked in, I have never known anyone who comes close to resembling Kathy Scruggs- or at least, the way she is characterized in this film. Wilde's portrayal distracts and detracts from the central narrative. It is exactly the type of salacious headline-making of which the film is purportedly critical. It is possible to be salty, spicy, promiscuous or whatever they were trying to depict Scruggs as being without making her ethically compromised.

Outside of Scruggs and Shaw there’s a vibrant narrative that serves as a cautionary tale about society’s desire to have closure and investigators’ wish to give that to a community in the immediate aftermath of tragedy.