Richard Jewell examines a heartbreaking miscarriage of justice.
Those who vividly remember the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta probably also recognize the name Richard Jewell. And that man’s name is the straightforward, simple title for director Clint Eastwood’s examination of the heartbreaking miscarriage of justice against Jewell after a pipe bomb explodes during a concert in Centennial Olympic Park, killing two and injuring over a hundred.
Based on Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” Billy Ray’s solid screenplay speedily establishes Jewell’s earlier work history as a clerk and later a security guard, including instances of overstepping his authority. These excesses will factor into the FBI’s building a case against him, as led by Agent Tom Shaw, presented in entirely uncomplimentary scenes. Equally villainized is Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, willing to compromise herself and her values to get a headline and a scoop.
Jewell did, in fact, save countless lives when he became suspicious of a discarded backpack. The overbearing FBI and the intrusive, uncaring media clamor for headlines, their rush to judgment concluding that Jewell planted the bomb, wanting to emerge as the hero. Instead he faces a three-month ordeal.
As events unfold, the narrative expands on Jewell’s character, sketching in his life with mother Barbara, called Bobi, as well as his acquaintance with the man who will become his steadfast lawyer, Watson Bryant. However, in this black-and-white portrayal, no external, unrelated information intrudes, and complexity doesn’t figure in. Therefore, Without the right actor as Jewell, both eliciting our empathy and unafraid to look foolish, the film would flounder. It finds its appealing actor in Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, with strong support from Kathy Bates as Bobi, Sam Rockwell as lawyer Bryant, Jon Hamm as Agent Shaw, and Olivia Wilde as reporter Scruggs.
Joel Cox’s editing moves this story along with emotional closeups, and cinematographer Yves Bélanger’s strong compositions deliver strong content without distractions. The takeaway is that Eastwood’s presentation of Richard Jewell’s unjust victimization insists on a political relevance for our current climate, a targeted message that can’t be missed.