A Hero's Arduous Marathon: Richard Jewell
In 1996, an alert security guard noticed a suspicious backpack hidden under a bench after receiving an ominous phone call. He notified others assigned to security about it, and they tried to clear the area. The backpack, unfortunately, exploded before all could be cleared. Two people died as a result, and many more were wounded. Things, however, didn’t go well for the person whose report prompted a response. Clint Eastwood’s film Richard Jewell looks into the Centennial Park bombing and its aftermath. Richard (Paul Walter Hauser) had wanted opportunities in law enforcement, but things hadn’t gone well for him more than once. He got another chance to prove himself in a temporary gig providing security at the Atlanta Olympics. However, when the Atlanta branch of the FBI takes charge of the investigation, they discover issues in Richard’s background. Just before a shift, FBI agents Tom Shaw (John Hamm) and Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez) visit the apartment where Jewell lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). The agents ask Jewell to come with them to their headquarters on the pretense of making a safety video based on the incident. They want him to sign a paper that implicates him of wrongdoing, but he refuses.
When he exercises his right to contact a lawyer, Richard reaches out to Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), whom the guard had known during the days when they worked together at a law firm. Bryant, now in private practice, grows suspicious of the questioning, and manages to terminate the interview and get his client released. Later, Shaw has a rendezvous with Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. During their encounter, Scruggs manages to get Shaw to reveal where his investigation is headed. She co-writes a front page piece, revealing that Jewell is now a suspect. Not only do agents come to the apartment and confiscate anything that could potentially be used to make bombs, but the media converges on the building, seeking comment. Over the next three months, Jewell becomes the subject of intense scrutiny. Scruggs, still assigned to the coverage, uncovers something that indicates an oversight could have been made.
Richard Jewell, based on accounts from two different sources, shows the consequences of a rush to judgment from director Clint Eastwood. Jewell not only had his past working against him, but he kept believing that he and the FBI were on the same side. His counsel has a hard time convincing him that it’s not in his best interest to speak. That portion of the movie is handled thoughtfully. Normally, I don’t discuss how fiction differs from the facts, but here, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy made a huge omission. Among the libel suits filed by Jewell and continued by his estate, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was cleared of any wrongdoing. Making the FBI and the media the bad guys in this film plays to a pro-Trump agenda, where they are the targets of allegations that are largely or entirely untrue. Eastwood is usually much more even-handed in other based-on-fact films profiling heroic people. Flags Of Our Fathers, for example, shows soldiers yanked from the battlefield to come home and promote the war effort without understanding the toll it would take on the men. Changeling shows a mother severely mistreated by the authorities when she questions the fact that the boy they believed was her son was not. Eastwood normally does well to steer clear of any obvious bias, but Richard Jewell reeks of it.
The heroes of this story, though, are portrayed very well. Hauser, who came to prominence as a bumbling criminal in I, Tonya, now takes the lead as a bumbling officer. It’s not that Richard ever meant to be bad in his work, but he tries too hard to put the enforcement into law enforcement. That behavior cost Jewell two different jobs. He makes the most of the Olympics gig, and responds properly when he gets the call that changes his life. Even the FBI accusations don’t stop him from wishing to be an ally of the law. Hauser not only excels here, but he bears quite the resemblance to the man he portrays. Rockwell shines as Bryant, a lawyer who helps out his old supply clerk. Bryant, though, grows almost as frustrated with Jewell as he does with the FBI. When the lawyer advises his client not to speak, the client doesn’t always listen. Bates gives a strong performance as Bobi, a mother finding herself unwillingly thrust into the spotlight, but just as certain as Watson that the FBI has their focus on the wrong man.
It’s often too easy to piece together certain details of a person’s life and conclude something inaccurate without any proof. Richard Jewell is a case study in gathering details and reaching an inaccurate conclusion. Many people want their justice to come swiftly, but they forget that justice doesn’t always follow that game plan. If proper justice comes quickly, that is good. Many times, though, people have to wait for the truth to be revealed, and that can have adverse consequences as well.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Richard Jewell three stars. Eastwood gives another hero his due.