How can you properly vindicate and honor a man who risked his life to save others, only to be utterly destroyed by the powerful forces of the FBI and the media for doing so?
I’m not sure you ever really can, especially 20 years after the fact. But Clint Eastwood’s latest masterpiece, “Richard Jewell,” comes as close as one can get.
Richard Jewell was working security at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when he spotted a suspicious package. Jewell’s vigilance and dedication to his job allowed him and others to evacuate the area, potentially saving an estimated 100 lives.
Jewell was hero.
Or at least he should have been.
The Eastwood-directed film dissects the smearing of Jewell, which started just three days after the 33-year-old helped to minimize the impact of the attack.
From the deceptive and, frankly, unbelievable actions by the FBI — an agency Jewell revered — to the reputation-destroying mistakes printed and echoed by an overzealous media unaware of their own biases, “Richard Jewell” gives the audience an emotionally taxing peek inside the lives of such victims.
“I, Tonya” actor Paul Walter Hauser is stunning as Jewell; or, simply, he is Jewell. While the content of the film is serious, “Richard Jewell” is so heavy and challenging for the viewer largely due to Hauser’s performance. Understanding Jewell as an imperfect hero, Hauser makes you feel every ounce of injustice, every infliction of pain against the earnest, goodhearted soul that was Jewell. You want to reach through the screen and comfort the character; it’s almost agonizing.
And it’s not just Hauser with the impeccable acting. Every character is perfectly cast. Sam Rockwell as Jewell-friend and lawyer Watson Bryant couldn’t be a more charismatic bulldog. Kathy Bates nearly steals the film with her heartbreaking portrayal of Jewell’s mother Bobi during the now-famous press conference defending her baby boy. Jon Hamm, as an aggressive FBI agent, will make you loathe him. Olivia Wilde brings the right amount of complexity in her portrayal as reporter Kathy Scruggs.
Of course, the parallels to today’s political climate are unavoidable (see: Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Covington Catholic high schoolers, President Donald Trump), and likely the real reason folks in the media have delivered an all-out assault on the film. However, their obvious deflection doesn’t detract from the message of “Richard Jewell.”
“Hollywood takes artistic liberties,” Hauser responded to the controversy during a Friday interview with ABC News. “While I appreciate their opinions, if they think it’s going to extinguish what we’re trying to do with the Jewell family, they would be incorrect.”
Perhaps the greatest endorsement of the film is the reaction from Bobi Jewell, who told ABC she believed her only son was “killed” by the FBI and media maligning him. “He was worn, torn, and tattered,” the hero’s mother said, adding that her boy “died of a broken heart.” (Jewell died at the young age of 44.)
However, though painful, the film has offered her boy vindication, Bobi Jewell said, noting that it was 20 years too late.
“Richard Jewell” is a must-see, compelling inside look at the victims created by authorities abusing their power and neglecting their responsibilities. Come for the acting, stay for the timely message.