Since 2006’s dual film release of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood has increasingly turned his directorial eye towards films covering actual events. Another theme common among his recent films is focusing on American heroes, where lone individuals make a major impact on their surroundings, such as decorated Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle in American Sniper, quick-thinking pilot “Sully” Sullenberger in Sully, or the group of Americans that averted a terrorist attack on a Paris train in The 15:17 to Paris. To that list we can add Eastwood’s most recent film, Richard Jewell.
I imagine that anyone reading this was alive during the events this film covers, namely the bombing in Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. The film principally focuses on the events following the July 27 incident, when Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) discovered a suspicious-looking backpack under a bench in the Park, which turned out to be filled with pipe bombs. The bombs exploded shortly thereafter, but only killing one person in the blast due to Jewell’s intervention. (A second person, a reporter, died of a heart attack running towards the explosion to cover the event.)
Initially hailed as a hero for finding the bomb and preventing further casualties, the tide of public opinion quickly turned against Jewell after an article by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that he was a person-of-interest in the FBI’s investigation, with the headline, “F.B.I. Suspect Hero Guard May Have Planted Bomb.” When other outlets like CNN and the AP ran with the story, followed by round-the-clock FBI surveillance and some other unseemly tactics, Jewell was all but convicted in the public’s eye. While he was eventually cleared of any involvement in the incident, the trial by media had a grave impact on his life.
Eastwood has become increasingly outspoken in his political views, going back to his infamous “empty chair speech” to then President Obama at the 2012 Republican National Convention, and Jewell isn’t completely devoid of any political messaging. He often seems to be using the film to express concerns about the media and big government conspiring to lead an agenda.
Eastwood also manages to throw in a few jabs about the rights of gun ownership. In one exchange between Jewell and his attorney, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), Bryant says, “You belong to any extremist groups, Richard? [The] NRA?” causing Jewell to reply, “Is the NRA a fringe group?”
During another scene when they are preparing for the FBI to come and search Jewell’s home, Bryant asks if Jewell has any weapons. After Jewell places a large stockpile of weapons on his bed, including several assault-style automatic rifles, Bryant says, “Oh, good Lord. What are you expecting? A zombie invasion or something?”
“No, I wasn’t expecting zombies,” Jewell replied. “I expect deer. I hunt.”
As a principally dialogue-driven piece, Eastwood keeps most conversations framed tight and close, allowing us to really see and connect with the actors, which works because he has such a stellar cast here. In addition to those already mentioned, Kathy Bates received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for her role as Jewell’s mom, Bobi.
The film begins in 1986, establishing the relationship between Jewell and Bryant, and also sowing the seeds of Jewell’s love and obsession with being involved in law enforcement. Repeatedly, we see Jewell as a mostly failed loner, living at home with his mother and desperately wanting to find some sort of a career in law enforcement. When given a security job at a university, he goes well beyond his authority and is ultimately forced to resign after repeated complaints, which leads to his taking a position as a security guard in connection with the Olympics, where he is shown regularly looking to befriend or ingratiate himself with actual law-enforcement officers.
Eastwood leaves overt politics aside for the most part and just goes about telling Jewell’s story in a mostly accurate and linear fashion. This makes it easy to follow and watch as the FBI and media go about ticking the boxes to investigate and criminalize Jewell, even going so far as to trick him into coming to the FBI offices and trying to get him to sign a waiver of his rights under the guise of filming a training video to help future officers. According to History vs Hollywood, the film is surprisingly accurate save for one major point between story-hungry journalist Scruggs and FBI agent Tom Shaw (John Hamm) in an offer to trade sex for information, which Scruggs’ associates say never would have happened. (The actual Scruggs died in 2001.)
The only scenes that felt staged were the recreations in Centennial Park, where the crowds just felt light and forced, and the shots were framed to minimize how few people were actually there. These scenes just seemed to be missing the excitement and energy that would have existed in these pre-Olympics gatherings.
Shot on ArriRaw at 3.4K, this transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and this shows in the pristine detail in closeups of actors’ faces, which just snap into ultra-sharp focus and clarity. You can see every line, wrinkle, pore, and stray hair, adding to the feeling of being right there coupled with Eastwood’s tight framing. Near the end of the movie there is a brick building with sharp lines from the edges of the mortar and bricks that could have been pulled from a test pattern.
Night scenes are appropriately dark and noise-free, with lights getting some punch from HDR. Following the explosion, the smoke-filled skies are lit by different sources, which would be a bandwidth torture test nightmare for streaming services, but the image on the Kaleidescape download remained free of any noise or banding.
Audio is served up via a DTS-HD 5.1-channel mix that is serviceable but doesn’t do too much to immerse you in the action. There are a few dynamic scenes, such as Jewell at a gun range or the bombs exploding with nails spraying around the room, but for the most part surround info is limited to some minor ambience, such
as arcade sounds in an early scene or shutter clicks of ever-present cameras. One scene in a club has some jazz playing in the background (possibly arranged by Eastwood, who is known to play for his films) that has nice texture, with detailed brush strokes on cymbals and a piano playing. Fortunately dialogue, the most important element here, is clear and intelligible.
The 131-minute film received mostly favorable reviews, garnering 75% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 96% audience rating. However, due to its less than stellar performance at the box office, it doesn’t appear that Jewell will be getting a 4K UltraHD Blu-ray release, so if you are interested in seeing it in its highest-quality presentation, downloading from Kaleidescape is your best bet.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.