The title of this film “RICHARD JEWELL” is our subject matter as well. Jewell is a security guard who was hailed as a hero for finding a pipe bomb and thus preventing a bigger tragedy in 1996 during the time of the Atlanta Olympics. The film focuses on the events of the bombing itself and what takes place in the life of Richard Jewell post-bombing.
Imagine being falsely accused of a terrorist act that killed and injured people. Imagine that you are the FBI’s primary suspect. Imagine your name and face are spread across every possible media outlet. Imagine your belongings have been searched and seized as evidence – right down to your mom’s underwear. Lastly, imagine all of this occurs mere days after your actions actually saved lives and you were hailed as a hero across all of those same media outlets. Well that imaginary man is actually Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a humble but rather over-zealous security guard whom yes, imagines himself a law enforcement officer as he never fails to tell us.
We first meet Richard as a supply clerk at a law firm in 1986. His awkward ways and surprising efficiency catches the eye of attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a quasi-connection that comes into play a big part in both of their lives a decade later. We then jump ahead 10 years to find Richard being fired from his campus security job at a college due to not only his odd behaviour, but his escalating over-zealous focus on following protocol to a point of pulling people over off-campus as a police officer would. Fortunately for Richard, the Olympics are coming to Atlanta, so finding work as a security guard is pretty easy.
Pan to Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Crowds of people are dancing at a Kenny Rogers concert and two days later we have Sly & The Family Stone and people dancing the Macarena. As one of the on-site security guards, Richard spots a suspicious backpack that turns out to be holding the pipe bomb that detonates minutes later, creating turmoil and tragedy at the site. In hindsight we see that thanks to Richard, it wasn’t worse and as the viewing audience, we know that Richard’s actions saved lives and he definitely is not responsible for planting the bomb. And it’s because of knowing this, that we have the feeling of being in Richard’s shoes – thanks in part because of the Oscar-worthy performance here by Hauser as well. Every time we hear Richard say “I’m law enforcement too”, it’s heart-breaking to us and gives an opening for the FBI to try and manipulate him. The scenario of a single white male living at home with his mom, carrying his gung-ho dreams of a career in law enforcement while collecting guns, knowledge on bombs and police procedure, makes Richard Jewell the perfect patsy.
Two key supporting roles come courtesy of Oscar winner Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother Bobi, and Nina Arianda as Bryant’s paralegal Nadya. Bates starts out as a loving and simple mother to Richard, but her press conference captures the character in a new light. It’s a strong and heartfelt performance. Arianda on the other hand, brings some warmth sprinkled with welcome sarcasm to her role. Once again, Hauser is spot-on in every scene, and when the four are all together, it’s a pleasure to watch. Hauser and Rockwell are especially good in their scenes together as the ‘wronged man’ contrast with the take-no-bull attorney and somehow actually gives a touch a humour in this otherwise not so humourous story.
With Jon Hamm having perfected the role of the cocksure agent-man and this one being no different as he plays FBI Agent Tom Shaw, the man totally focused on proving Richard Jewell was the perpetrator. The depiction of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) is a bit curious, being that the uproar is over what some interpret as a reporter trading intimate relations for a scoop, yet the contempt here seems focused more on the idea of trying this case in the public eye while lacking any real evidence outside of a profile. Perhaps the viewer reaction to this is just a sign of the times we are now in.
Leading me into the fact that with four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood directing yet another story of a working-class hero, or essentially as he would like us all to see it. While the film deserves to be commended, the story being true as it is, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast, it was not lost on me on or many I saw the film with-of the political propaganda side of this film in the times facing us in our present situation. Staunch Republican that he is, Mr. Eastwood was sure to make note at what could be construed to believe to be perfect timing of the fact of the FBI made a huge error is their assessment of Richard Jewell and as such are not to be trusted. Same point being made with the media – aka ‘fake media’. Perfect timing Mr. Eastwood for more political rhetoric to keep in tune with the division of this country. Taking the hero story to the next level as we all know human beings make mistakes – and while there is cause to find total fault with the mishandling of this case, it goes without saying that they are not always wrong. No one would want to find themselves in Richard Jewell’s shoes, hence this story does deserve to be told even if it feels like a two-headed coin spin by Eastwood here.
Both Richard Jewell and Kathy Scruggs have passed, him in 2007, her in 2001, so we will never know their take on all this today.
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Media Screening: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“RICHARD JEWELL” IS OUT IN U.S. THEATERS NOW // WORLDWIDE TO FOLLOW JANUARY 2020