Directed by master craftsman Clint Eastwood, Richard Jewell has all the trappings of a quality movie. It is the story of an unlikely hero who became a villain, only to become a hero once again. An overweight former cop turned security guard runs into trouble when he saves lives in the wake of a bombing, only to have the spotlight turn back onto him as the primary suspect.
A wake-up call to a nation celebrating an event harbored in world unity. The 1996 Olympic Park bombing produces great panic by means of a pipe bomb explosion. Amid the confusion, a security guard named Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) steps up to save lives and clear the area to avoid further injuries. Initially, the media hails Jewell as a hero. But when his former boss calls in a tip that casts doubt on his credibility, Jewell is suddenly cast as the primary suspect in the bombing. Unfortunately, some of his life's details and overzealous policing up to this point only back up those theories as he's painted as a man who would do anything to be a hero.
As the FBI investigates, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) is so convinced that Jewell is guilty that any shred of evidence only furthers his resolve. Even more problematic for Jewell is that he fits the profile of someone who would do what he's accused of doing. It's insinuated that reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) trades sexual favors for information from Shaw and then lands on the name Richard Jewell. This further escalates the deep probe into Jewell's personal life, thrusting him into the mainstream media before he's been proven to have committed any crime. Unfortunately for Jewell, his budget only allows for second-rate lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), but he believes he sees the situation more clearly than anyone else. He firmly commits himself to defending his client of any wrongdoing, despite the cries for blood from the media and the FBI.
Eastwood has a knack for making his heroes truly relatable because they're not necessarily special, gifted, or talented, but they are often ordinary people tested by extraordinary circumstances. In this sense, he pushes Jewell to do the heavy lifting not in the moment of the actual event itself, but in the aftermath when his character must grow during the legal process he's always wanted to be a part of, as he strives to clear his own name. Writer Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) manages to paint an interesting picture here, setting up a possible scenario in which Richard Jewell may have actually done the things he's accused of doing, despite his protestations that he's innocent. This suspense adds an element of intrigue to an otherwise straightforward underdog story.
Overall, Richard Jewell hits all the right notes at the right moments. Despite its 131-minute runtime, none of this drama feels like bloat. There's also enough action and intrigue from beginning to end that this isn't strictly a courtroom drama, but a true quest for salvation.