Clint Eastwood traces Richard Jewell's fall from hero to villian

Richard Jewell (M)

Three stars

Clint Eastwood retells the story of Richard Jewell, a security guard who discovered a bomb at a crowded park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics.

Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell then became the prime suspect in an FBI investigation of the event, with the media leading the charge to judge him ahead of any trial.

Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell in 'Richard Jewell'. Picture: Warner Bros

Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell in 'Richard Jewell'. Picture: Warner Bros

Eastwood judiciously squeezes the drama from what's really a very simple story, but never dives deeply enough into any of the characters to make us really care. It's a slow and steady affair. As we first get to know Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) in this story, there's an uneasy sense that there's something not quite right.

It's 1986 and Jewell, overweight and living with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), is an earnest believer in law and order.

He makes clear his desire to be someone important in law enforcement and, at the office where he works as a lowly supply clerk, befriends tempestuous lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell). Bryant voices our feelings of suspicion about Jewell, who he catches snooping around his office.

When Bryant then finds out that Jewell has secured a job as a security guard, he warns him that "a little bit of power can turn a man into an arsehole". Our fears seem confirmed: this man is definitely creepy.

Jumping ahead 10 years, Jewell - still looking for a job as a policeman - works as a security guard at a concert in Centennial Park, as Atlanta hosts the Olympics.

He is friendly with the police and officious with a group of young men who are drunk.

Eastwood traces Jewell's fall from hero to villain and explores the morality of the media.

Quick to use his knowledge of security and police protocols, he spots a suspicious backpack under a bench, raises the alarm, and starts clearing the area. In the crowd is FBI Agent Tom Shaw (John Hamm), who is bored and on duty, and journalist Cathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), looking desperately for a story.

It's with these few players that Eastwood traces Jewell's fall from hero to villain and explores the morality of the media.

The main conflict of the piece is between Agent Shaw, who's pushing for a conviction, and lawyer Bryant, who comes to believe utterly that this odd man is innocent.

Shaw is convinced Jewell fits the profile of the "false hero" terrorist - a white male loner with previous experience in the military of law enforcement. He leaks information of the investigation to Scruggs, who will do anything to get a headline.

Bryant believes Jewell is being wrongfully harried by the two most powerful forces in the world: the US Government and the media, and he is charismatic and dogged enough to take them on.

Eastwood is known for his straightforward approach to filmmaking and, like his previous movie Mule (2018), the plot plays out in an overly convenient - sometimes even manipulative way, most noticeably with the arc developed for Scruggs.

The film's title points to a character study and yet Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray are unable to scratch much below the surface of Jewell, who needs to be revealed as far more emotionally complex to carry the otherwise straightforward narrative.

More dramatically successful are Eastwood's jabs at the role of the media and its relationship - literally in bed - with Government agencies.

But there's just not enough made of the procedural minutiae and the subtle motivations at work as the plot unfolds.

The cast are all strong, with Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell injecting much needed energy into the frequently lumbering storytelling.

Eastwood has worked with editor Joel Cox for more than 40 years, winning many accolades along the way (including an Oscar for Unforgiven in 1992): Richard Jewell definitely needed a racier cut.

This story Jewell's fall from hero to villian first appeared on The Canberra Times.