Clint Eastwood takes liberties with “Richard Jewell”

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde) – During the 1996 Summer Olympics, a devastating bomb went off in Centennial Park in Atlanta during a concert.  More than 110 people were injured, and one person died when a backpack bomb exploded in the park.  A security guard, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), found the suspicious backpack, alerted the police, and aggressively moved people out of harm’s way before the bomb exploded.  For three days, he was celebrated across the country as a hero. Then this feel-good story took a surprising and ominous turn when the FBI targeted Jewell as the bomber and the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that story.

Richard Jewell effectively tells Jewell’s story, which is to say it shows how Jewell was unfairly vilified in public.  It reveals the agony that his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates), felt.  It introduces us to Jewell’s enigmatic lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell).  Unfortunately, it also either invents, projects, or just plain makes up the questionable, deplorable and illegal actions of the FBI as well as the allegedly unethical manner in which the reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), broke the story by coercing the lead FBI agent, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), to tell her about Jewell’s being investigated.

Especially these days, it would be easy to believe that the FBI took the easy route in identifying Jewell as the likely culprit and dismissed any evidence to the contrary.  And in the Trump anti-press, anti-female era, it might be popular to believe that a female reporter used her sexual charms to entice the FBI agent to give her a scoop.  The former is more likely to be true than the latter.  The FBI eventually dropped the Jewell inquiry and took even longer to find the real bomber.  But the Atlanta Journal Constitution vehemently denies that there is any truth to the claim that Scruggs (who died of a prescription drug overdose at age 43) slept her way to a scoop.

The fact that Clint Eastwood, legendary actor, director, Republican, conservative, and bizarre chair-interviewer, helms this movie might explain why the media and the FBI are portrayed as caricatures.  The same might be true of screenwriter Billy Ray, whose Breach told the story of FBI spy-in-residence Robert Hanssen; State of Play, whose compromised journalist Kyle McAffrey eventually reveals the truth about his Congressman friend; and Shattered Glass, the story of disgraced New Republic reporter/fabulist Stephen Glass.

All that said, Richard Jewell is riveting.  As we meet him, Jewell is not a particularly sympathetic figure.  He is a misfit, a socially awkward police wannabe who owns an arsenal of guns and spends his free time at a shooting range and a video arcade.  Paul Walter Hauser, who was memorable in both I, Tonya and Blackkklansman, deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as Jewell.  Rockwell continues a run of fine performances as the unsuccessful, reluctant lawyer who takes the case.  Kathy Bates never misses a chance to shine, and she does just that as Jewell’s loving, enabling mother. John Hamm is wasted as Shaw while Olivia Wilde is lost as Scruggs.

If you can ignore the fabricated parts of Richard Jewell, this is a very engaging film where you will learn quite a bit about one of the most infamous cases in recent American history.

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