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RICHARD JEWELL: 4 STARS. “best film of 2019 to include a Macarena dance scene.”

For a short time Richard Jewell was a household name, first for being a hero, then a villain, then a curiosity, a man who was railroaded by the press and the very people he revered, law enforcement. “Richard Jewell,” a new film from director Clint Eastwood looks at the man behind the headlines.

Based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner the film stars Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, a law and order man, who believes in rules and dreams of being a police officer. When he isn’t studying the penal code in the bedroom of the house he shares with his mother (Kathy Bates) he works security gigs, like patrolling the grounds at Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

When he spots a suspicious package the on-duty cops say, “It’s probably someone who run off drunk,” but Jewell insists they investigate. What happens next few minutes came to define his life.

The abandoned backpack contains three pipe bombs. “The biggest I’ve ever seen,” says a bomb expert.

Jewell’s suspicious nature saves lives and at first he is treated like a hero. Book deals are offered and he’s on every news broadcast in the country. “Tom Brokaw was even talking about you,” says his mother. But soon the story changes. His socially awkward nature and law enforcement aspirations make him the target of an FBI investigation. They wonder if he manufactured the crisis so he could be a hero.

After a loose-lipped FBI agent (Jon Hamm) spills the story to seductive reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) Jewell becomes front page news as a false hero with only lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) to help navigate the firestorm of controversy that follows.

Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray paint in rather broad strokes. The villains of the piece—the FBI agents who think Jewell is “guilty as hell.” and Wilde’s reporter, not the real-life bomber who is barely mentioned—twirl their metaphorical moustaches as they work in tandem to prove Jewell’s guilt, both offering up a cartoonish but entertaining take on their characters.

The heart of the film is closer to the Jewell home. Bates brings some real emotion to the role of a loving mother whose life is turned upside down but, by the time the end credits roll, this show belongs to Hauser and Rockwell. The chemistry, obvious affection and occasional exasperation between the two is winning and authentic. Rockwell brings his usual offbeat charm to the role of the dogged attorney but it is Hauser who leaves the lasting impression. In what should be his breakout film, the actor, best known for a supporting role in “I, Tonya,” gives an indelible performance. Jewell is an underdog, a Paul Blart with a heart of gold nearly crushed under the weight of powers far more powerful than him. His growing sense of frustration at his treatment by the FBI comes to a crescendo in a scene that allows him to win back some of the dignity that has been stripped away from him. In Hauser’s hands a character that could have been played as a bewildered screw-up becomes a likeable man with both pride and a sense of purpose.

“Richard Jewell” is the best film of 2019 to include a Macarena dance scene. It’s also a timely and searing indictment of the abuse of trial by media; of how an everyman’s life was almost ruined at the hands of people who traded on misinformation. Eastwood gives Jewell his due, humanizing a man who was treated like a story and not a person. Unfortunately, Eastwood also takes liberties in the way he portrays the reporter Scruggs, who died in 2001. Playing fast and loose with the unproven accusation that she traded sex for information, he does exactly what the media did to Jewell, point a jaundiced finger at someone who did nothing wrong.

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