MOVIE REVIEW: Clint Eastwood tells another strong ‘everyman’ tale with ‘Richard Jewell’ Content Exchange


Three out of four stars

For the bulk of his career both in front of and behind the camera, Clint Eastwood has gravitated toward outsiders, loners, misfits and the nondescript everyman. Many of the leads in his films are men with modest, unspectacular backgrounds who find themselves being tested and then figuring out a way to deal with it.

From the stalking victim DJ he played in his directorial debut (“Play Misty For Me”), to “The Gauntlet” through “Gran Torino” and the recent “Sully,” Eastwood shows us what it’s like to be us. For his 40th feature film, Eastwood has chosen one of the most tragic real-life figures of the last quarter century who, if guilty of anything, was thoroughly incapable of ever being something he was not.

Georgia native Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser – “I, Tonya”) was a plus-sized man who lived with his single mother and wanted nothing more than to be a police officer. Unable to make the cut with local, county or state law enforcement agencies, Jewell worked at Piedmont College in Demorest before being hired as a security guard by AT&T for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Assigned to work at Centennial Park for evening concerts during the games, Jewell took his job seriously, which invited mockery from the public and muted, snickering scorn from the “regular” police with whom he regularly interacted. Jewell was certain he’d move on to bigger things, and after the events on July 27, 1996, it indeed appeared that Jewell’s life would take a sharp and sudden turn for the better.

For two days, Jewell was a national hero and a media darling. Preventing the deaths of hundreds of people with quick and unselfish thinking tends to get everyone’s attention.

Things started to go sour with Jewell when the FBI began suspecting him for planting the bomb in the park and then “saving” everyone – something known in certain circles as “fake hero” syndrome. At first, the FBI’s suspicions made sense. Jewell was in exactly the right place at the right time; it was almost too convenient. Add to the fact there were no other viable suspects at the time and identifying a bomber quickly during the Olympics provided a multitude of monetary and PR pluses. Nobody seemed to care whether Jewell was guilty or not.

Initially, Jewell’s mother Bobi (Kathy Bates) was the only one in his corner. Even his lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) thought Jewell did it, as his client loved the limelight and didn’t have the wherewithal to figure out he was becoming a scapegoat. Jewell was too trusting, too naïve and believed because he was innocent, nothing bad would happen to him, regardless of what he said to authorities.

A bumper sticker on Bryant’s office wall reads “I’m more afraid of the government than I am of terrorists” and it goes a long way in letting the audience know that Eastwood and screenwriter Bill Ray are going to take an “us vs. them” approach to the story. Based on what is known, they weren’t wrong.

For the duration, lead FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) was convinced Jewell was guilty, an opinion he shared with late Atlanta-Journal Constitution crime reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). As portrayed in the movie, Scruggs was an unchecked spitfire; a loud and boisterous type who sold her AJC editors on the “Jewell is guilty” pitch, which they bought, and it put her far ahead of the competition.

It’s no secret that Eastwood is one of only a handful of conservatives in Hollywood. For those who wish to make the connection, it is understandable to view the unholy marriage between the FBI and the media here to the similar union in the current real-life situation going down in Washington, D.C.. Or you could surmise the timing is all merely coincidental.

If for no other reason, “Richard Jewell” sounds the alarm (again) that rushing to judgment will likely – but not always – misinform the public and ruin innocent people’s lives. Being first is great — if you’ve got it right.

The filmmakers get a lot right here, but let a huge opportunity slip through their fingers by not following up at least to some degree on the real bomber (Eric Rudolph), and the subsequent bombings he later carried out at a Sandy Springs abortion clinic and an LGBTQ nightclub in Midtown. Identifying the ultimate “who” and the “what” is great; including the “why” would have been even better.

One of the most famous Georgians of the late 20th century, Richard Jewell will ultimately be remembered as a hero. But the path his life and legacy took to get there came with a heavy price. No one should have been put through what he endured.

Sadly, it would appear there’s still quite a bit of that same sort of thing going on today.

(Warner Bros.)

This article originally ran on Content Exchange