Richard Jewell review – Clint Eastwood’s cautionary tale for cynical times

<span>Photograph: Claire Folger/AP</span>
Photograph: Claire Folger/AP

There is an elegant, even-handed character study buried within Clint Eastwood’s crisp procedural about a security guard who becomes a hero – and then a pariah – after reporting a suspicious package at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Jewell as deeply flawed but still sympathetic) is an overweight 33-year-old loner who lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). He believes in protecting people and sees himself as a diligent member of law enforcement.

So it’s a shock when the FBI accuses him of having planted the bomb and, worse still, when minxy and unscrupulous local journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, hindered by thin, sexist characterisation) creates a national media circus by writing about him. Cool-headed attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) is called in to teach Jewell a lesson about trusting the authorities. “Why do you keep defending these people?” Bobi asks her son. “I’m not defending, I’m explaining,” he replies, knee-capped by his own beliefs. Equally resonant is Eastwood’s take on the public lambasting of false heroes, as well as the fickle and arbitrary nature of fame.