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'Richard Jewell': All That Sparkles
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
02:45PM / Friday, December 20, 2019
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"Richard Jewell," director Clint Eastwood's skillfully told account of how a hero was turned into a scapegoat following the murderous bombing at the 1996 Olympics, stokes that greatest fear upon which our judicial system is based: that an innocent soul might be convicted of a crime.
It is everything in a true democracy to protect against arbitrary and random indictment, much to the vexation of today's unscrupulously authoritative voices in America who would sweep due process under the rug in the name of greedy motivations benefiting rich benefactors.
Eastwood, a national treasure by virtue of his probing forays into the American scene, once again makes a controversially wise choice of subject. Richard Jewell, an overweight Georgia native in his 30s who lives with his Mom and hasn't had much success thus far in his pursuit of a law enforcement career, is by no means the typical quarry that might be plucked for persecution by a frustrated Inspector Javert. Rather, the security guard hired to work the Olympics is the ultimate Boy Scout, hellbent on protecting the safety of just about every citizen who comes within his jurisdictional fold. But then, he's not quite the typical hero type, either.
Eastwood's message, eloquent in his traditional, understated implication, is that we should be very careful in picking our villains and heroes. Sam Rockwell's superbly played defense attorney, Watson Bryant, who takes a liking to Paul Walter Hauser's complexly realized Jewell, is abashed when, at the latter's apartment, he is shown his client's arsenal of guns. Terrorist or protector of civilization?
The thing is, it's not that easy, especially with the prevalence of firearms in this country acting as the wild card in our discernment. The 2nd Amendment, albeit unapologetically misinterpreted by Americans for fun, profit and, in some cases for random mass killings in the name of whatever cockamamie crusade takes hold of the gun wielder's psyche, adds a confusion factor.
Successful democracies other than ours, whose populations aren't quite so enamored of being able to end a life with one pull of a trigger, somehow manage to preserve the freedoms requisite of an egalitarian state.
The British can't be bothered by the folderol of gunplay. Y'know, cowboys, Indians and all that. And perhaps if we made every gun crazy person spend a minimum of hours sitting at a Parisian sidewalk café, munching on deliciously buttered baguettes and sipping coffee while ogling the attractive passersby, they'd see it's much more fun than traipsing after Bambi in the cold, wet woods. Besides … who really eats venison?
Want to be like your forefathers? Be polite. Hold doors open for people. Don't cut them off on the highway whilst giving them the finger. Don't ask foreign leaders to interfere in our elections. Don't grift the national treasury with your hotels. Say please and thank you and, if all that isn't enough retro activity equal to the thrill of killing animals in the wild, well, then churn butter.
The thing is, we like Jewell's imperfection. Maybe he does do some hunting as he says, and the obviously non-hunting parts of his armory are merely type identifiers in the way that a teenage boy might decorate his bedroom walls with posters of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and, if he's really cool, a Bugatti Type 35. In short, boys will be boys and gun-toting girls will be girls, and we're stuck with this festering mole on our constitutional government until either we evolve or it consumes us. Remember, the Constitution's three-fifths compromise recognized slavery. Well, we grew out of that.
Thoughts about the nature of true, unprejudiced justice versus the reality of how it plays out for the ordinary Joe constitute the film's philosophical filigree, dramatically harmonizing with lawyer Bryant's noble strivings. The action is often seat-edged, even if you know what eventually happens. And while it'd be all too easy to say the FBI's harassment of Jewell was conspiratorial, the pathetic truth is that they simply didn't have a clue, neither literally nor in the Sherlock Holmes understanding of the term. The pressure was on and, dismissing evidence to the contrary, this uncharacteristically inept unit of G-men found Jewell's imagined stereotype compelling enough for their case. So what if it would mean the death penalty.
Adding to the primary muddle, one must credit Paul Walter Hauser's superb depiction for making even us a bit skeptical at times. His wannabe police officer persona comes uncomfortably close to the all too common syndrome affecting disaffected sorts in our society who, longing for power and importance, impersonate cops.
"Richard Jewell," sadly informing of the trials and tribulations suffered by its title character, astutely delves into those shady gray areas too often employed by bad people to confuse the idea of right and wrong. And, in doing so, makes as its open-minded mission the reaffirmation that things are not always what they seem.
"Richard Jewell," rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates. Running time: 131 minutes
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