Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, American Sniper) directs this drama about security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who saved hundreds from a bomb at the 1996 Olympics only to be pilloried by the media who falsely reported he was a terrorist. (129 min.)
- Photos Courtesy Of 75 Year Plan Productions
- SWEET RELIEF Security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is comforted by his lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) after he's finally proven completely innocent of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
Glen Fake news and incompetent FBI agents are served up on a platter in this new Clint Eastwood film. It's almost like he's shilling for Trump by attacking a couple of his favorite targets! The film has also been condemned for being sexist, portraying Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (a scenery-chewing Olivia Wilde) as a sleazy journalist willing to sleep with FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) to find out who the FBI's prime suspect was. For a film that seems to want to condemn fake news, falsely smearing a now-dead reporter (Scruggs died of a drug overdose in 2001) seems ironic and hypocritical. So if you've come to this new Clint Eastwood film to discover the truth about the Richard Jewell case, you're about to be misled. If, on the other hand, you've come to see a gripping, well-acted, and economically and deftly directed fictionalized account of a tragic case of false accusation, you're in the right place! Say what you want about his politics—there's no denying Eastwood is a gifted director. He introduces us to a man who deeply respects government institutions and wants nothing more than to be a respected law enforcement officer, but Jewell is overzealous and a tad power-mad. He frequently oversteps whatever slight authority he has. I'm glad Eastwood didn't romanticize Jewell, instead portraying him as flawed and sadly desperate, which also made him the perfect suspect for the FBI—a wannabe cop who wanted to be seen as a hero. The film is also about Jewell's relationship with his mother, Bobi (a fantastic Kathy Bates), and his lawyer, Watson Bryant (another rock-solid performance by Sam Rockwell). It's an engaging story, even if a lot of it is embellished or just plain wrong.
Anna I'm not really familiar with the details of this event. I was too young at the time to give it much notice, so what inaccuracy there is to the film I can't speak to. The fictionalization certainly seems to have riled some critics though. However, truthful or not, the story is infuriating, and the "trial by media" that Jewell had to endure is seriously awful. Not only did it disrupt his life, but poor Bobi's as well—their shared apartment is eventually raided by the FBI, every possible connection put in boxes and taken away, from her Tupperware to her vacuum. Hamm plays Agent Shaw as a prickish, haughty jerk who thinks Jewell a dullard and an overweight loser. Never is this clearer than when he and another agent try to trick Jewell into signing a form with his Miranda rights on it in a fake "safety training video." While Jewell's Southern drawl and slow speech may make him seem dim, he's actually quite sharp and knows better than to be railroaded by authorities, no matter how much he respects them. Wilde as Scruggs is a frustrating figure, hungrier for a story than she is interested in its accuracy. The cast are all shining stars, but Hauser, Rockwell, and Bates are true standouts here.
- Photos Courtesy Of 75 Year Plan Productions
- FAME OVER FACTS Journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) is depicted (inaccurately) as a sleaze willing to do anything to make the front page.
Glen Yes, the performances are all excellent. Hauser bears more than a passing resemblance to Jewell, and in fact, Eastwood uses vintage TV footage of the actual Jewell being interviewed by Katie Couric in 1996 and doesn't even bother to superimpose Hauser. These touches of realism are also a reminder that this is about a real person who was horribly maligned and whose world was turned upside down. What happened to Richard Jewell was a tragedy, and while the FBI can't be criticized for investigating him as he was a legitimate suspect, the FBI could certainly be criticized for leaking that Jewell was a target of their investigation before they had any real evidence against him. Likewise, I don't think you can criticize Scruggs for reporting what she learned. After all, it was true. The FBI was investigating Jewell. It's just sad all around. I'll say this: If it wasn't for Bryant and his tenacity to protect Jewell from this unfair treatment, Jewell might have actually been railroaded for the crime. I both laughed and cried watching the film. I, too, was infuriated by it—between Scruggs' desperate and sleazy desire for front page news to Shaw's sneaky and corrupt attempt to trick Jewell into confessing, what the media and FBI were depicted as doing is nothing short of disgusting. Was it accurate? Probably not. The real hero is the iconoclastic and rebellious Bryant. If I'm ever falsely accused of something, that's the kind of lawyer I want in my corner. What a character!
Anna Bryant meets Jewell a decade before the explosion when Jewell is working at a law firm as a supply clerk. He takes special notice of Bryant's love of Snickers and stocks his desk full of them along with his other dwindling supplies. From that, Bryant takes a liking to the sweet, somewhat odd clerk and nicknames him Radar. Years later when being interrogated after the explosion, Bryant is the lawyer Jewell calls when the FBI's ulterior motives become clear. Even though he's a real estate lawyer, Bryant agrees to help his long-lost acquaintance and the two end up becoming actual friends, forming what almost feels like a brotherhood. Nadia (Nina Arianda) is Bryant's law assistant and paramour, a funny and bold Russian woman who bosses Bryant around in the most endearing way. Rockwell is one of my favorites, and this role just solidified that ranking even more. We definitely came out of this movie with a lot to talk about, especially the infuriating and unfair treatment of Jewell. While he may be a pushover and overly polite—especially when it comes to cops—in the end Jewell stands up for himself and demands quite plainly that the FBI either charge him or let him be. History gave us the ending, but seeing Jewell succeed and eventually make it to a position as an actual police officer felt triumphant. Unfortunately, Jewell's life was cut short at 44 years old from poor health, but at least he died a man whose name evokes thoughts of heroism instead of the villain the media tried to turn him into. This is a good story if you take it as that as opposed to actual history. Eastwood delivers an entertaining and infuriating film. Δ
Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.