Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is about a quiet, unassuming young man who lived in Georgia with his mother Bobi. His life goal was to be a cop, working a beat and helping others. But he lacked the education and so became a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which gave him a chance to help a wider public.
The 1972 Munich Olympics had alerted the world to possibilities for violence at large event, and Jewell (who was working at Centennial Park that fateful night) was meticulous in watching for possible causes of trouble.
When he spotted a suspicious-looking green backpack under a bench, he reported it immediately and began evacuating the crowd. Thirteen minutes later, the bomb exploded, killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring more than 100 others. But Jewell’s actions likely saved many (perhaps hundreds of) lives.
The young security guard (played brilliantly by Paul Walter Hauser) was initially hailed as a hero, thrilling his mother Bobi (excellently played by Kathy Bates) and giving his self-image a boost.
But there was public hunger to find the culprit, and even the FBI (called in to investigate) fell into the trap of suspecting the man who’d reported the problem.
Jon Hamm plays the (fictionalized) heavy here: FBI investigator Tom Shaw, who (along with fellow agent Dan Bennet, played by Ian Gomez) tries to trick Jewell into waiving his Miranda rights. They fail, and Jewell calls attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell). Bryant tells him to shut up and get out of there.
But this was 1996. Fox News and MSNBC had just launched, and together with the established CNN, the 24-hour news cycle became a staple of the American news front. Competition among the networks became fierce and as time went on, the need for news sometimes led to mistakes.
Eastwood tells this riveting combination of heroic ode and cautionary tale using film noir lighting (though the film is in color), giving it a distinctive look.
The film has been faulted for suggesting that “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) traded sex for information. Whether true or not, it should be noted that the film is being marketed as drama, not a documentary.
I hate to knock the press (after all, I’m part of it), but let’s face it, they dropped the ball in this case, and ruined a reputation in the process. “Richard Jewell” should be seen by all writers and wannabe writers as a reminder that the public trust is a gift that can be taken back at any time.
“Richard Jewell” is rated R and playing in theaters now.