A classic tale of David vs. Goliath
How do you make a statement without being too out there, without putting so much attention to yourself and without having the guns pointed at you? How do you take a stab at the system and walk away with your head still on your shoulders?
The answer: You put out a movie like Richard Jewell. In the Clint Eastwood-directed film, we see what happens when the facts are obscured and a different “truth” is brought to light.
In the movie, Richard (Paul Walter Hauser) saves countless lives when he finds an abandoned backpack that’s housing a bomb some minutes before it detonates. Naturally, he’s hailed a hero in the days that follow, with media outlets and news reporters calling him as such. But then cutthroat journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) meets with FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and seduces him into telling the truth: The FBI’s prime suspect for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing is—surprise—Richard.
When he’s put under the spotlight, Richard cooperates with the agents because he believes in what they’re doing; he used to be a deputy sheriff and understands and believes in the system. But when things start to smell fishy, he hires attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) to defend him.
He continues to claim his innocence as the FBI berate him and dig up his life, as the media turns a 180 and portrays him as a monster that got his 15 seconds of fame in exchange for innocent lives.
There’s a lot of talk about Eastwood having twisted the true story to suit his needs and messaging—especially the misogynistic choice to have Wilde’s character use sex as a weapon—but creative freedom is creative freedom and Richard Jewell doesn’t claim to be a documentary. If you want the real facts, read newspaper clippings and online articles from reputable outlets. And yes, before you call it out, I do get the irony of this given the film’s premise.
As a movie, Richard Jewell is pretty entertaining. The introduction to the Hauser’s character is a little dragging—we get it, he’s the loner type that wants power and attention—but things quickly get going after he finds the ambiguous bag. The development of Jewell is amazing to see unfold; he starts off a staunch supporter but eventually loses belief in a system that is clearly out to get him for the sake of saving face. Hauser’s performance is commendable because you feel for him at every turn and, as the investigation goes on, you just pray that he truly is innocent. You’re frustrated at his seemingly idyllic understanding of the law (and those that enforce it) but you can’t help but awe at his chosen ignorance, too.
The others—Wilde, Hamm, Rockwell and Kathy Bates who plays Bobi Jewell—are solid and dependable actors as usual. They turn the page when necessary and command the screen when it’s their time to shine. But now it’s time that we get into why Richard Jewell is a great movie.
The story, no matter how close to true events it is, tells a story that’s worth telling. A system that takes advantage of its trusting people goes down with facts that no amount of smoke and mirrors can hide. When you’re innocent, the cards will eventually play to your favor—or at least, that’s how it should be. So, yes, the story is worth the hype and budget and distribution, but that the film tells its narrative in a way that is so moving makes it all the more worthwhile.
Richard Jewell is already out in theaters.
Art Alexandra Lara