31st January 2020 (UK Theatrical), 8th June 2020 (UK DVD)
American security guard Richard Jewell saves many lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics, but is vilified by journalists and the press who falsely reported that he was a terrorist.
Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Brandon Stanley
“Are you not angry?” seethes Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), lawyer and longtime friend to the seemingly complacent security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) following yet another invasive search of his property by the FBI. It’s a sentiment echoed by myself towards director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray who appear to have taken a relatively indifferent approach to the truly infuriating true story of how the Government and media turned an American hero into a national villain.
In the early hours of 27th July 1996, a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Park. Thousands were gathered there to celebrate the Olympic Games which were set to take place in the city. The attack claimed two lives and injured 111 others. The victim count would have been considerably higher if it wasn’t for an observant security guard named Richard Jewell (Walter Hauser). Jewell spotted the backpack, informed the necessary authorities and saved precious minutes for them to clear the area.
Initial news coverage rightfully heaped praise on Jewell for his quick-thinking actions. But under pressure to solve the case, FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) hastily compiles a profile of the bomber – a loner who lives with his mother (in this case Bobi Jewell played by a sublime Kathy Bates), someone seeking approval from the public by being a hero – with Jewell fitting the bill perfectly.
Of course, with a story like this the media are never too far away. Enter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), crime reporter for the Atlanta Journal. Also on a deadline and in a race to get the scoop, she uses her natural charm along with other… assets, to obtain information from Shaw. His scrambling to close the case along with Scruggs’s carelessness to fact check creates a perfect storm of misinformation, resulting in the demonising of Jewell who becomes the prime suspect in the attack. With the help of his lawyer Watson Bryant and the unwavering love from his mother Bobi, Jewell must fight to clear his name and more importantly for the truth of his heroic actions to be known.
One of the biggest omissions from 2019’s Best Actor Oscar shortlist was Paul Walter Hauser as the titular character. After stealing the scenes in his brief appearance in 2018’s I, Tonya, Hauser is front, centre and the crowning Jewel of Jewell. Watching real-life interviews with the man and you’ll see he carries unique characteristics. Hauser replicates them perfectly and in turn gives one of the most overlooked, underappreciated and authentic turns in recent memory.
He’s backed up by an ox-strong supporting cast which includes multiple Oscar Winners, all displaying the talents which nabbed them the award in the past. Kathy Bates (The Blind Side) is especially great as Richard’s unwaveringly proud and supporting mother Bobbi, with Sam Rockwell (Three Billoards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) continuing to prove why he’s so sought after as the embodiment of the anger Richard should be feeling. Jon Hamm’s (Minions, Sucker Punch) corner-cutting quick fix FBI agent Tom Shaw and Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) as unscrupulous reporter Kathy Scruggsround off what could easily be 2019’s strongest ensemble, although they’re a little too cookie cutter as villainous figures. Still, their performances are exceptionally strong and it really is mind-boggling how Richard Jewell got so criminally passed over on the Awards circuit.
Its central story of a media and Government witch hunt will no doubt enrage, but Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray have opted to tell the central story from a more neutral stance. It’s one of the films few ironies, as this is undeniably how the events should have been reported when they happened. Even though it’s clear the media and Government are railroading Jewell for their own gain and to fit their agenda, the duo don’t go far enough to hold the guilty establishments to account. They’re very much on the fence, but it’s not unlike Eastwood’s directorial approach in has past work. He’s telling the story as impartially as possible and letting you make up your own mind.
Another ironic happenstance which emerged after Richard Jewell’s release was the controversy surrounding the actual reporter played by Olivia Wilde. The newspaper in question, The Atlanta Journal,-Constitution vehemently refuted the suggestion in the film that Scruggs, who died in 2001, coaxed information from an FBI Agent using sexual favours. While the idea of an unfair portrayal for artistic and dramatic purposes may seem a little crude, it’s hard not to feel like the paper as a whole deserves to feel a fraction of the injustice that Jewell endured.
Richard Jewell shows that people’s lives and the effect of intrusion are simply collateral damage to getting the big scoop. Sadly, it’s a state of affairs that we’re still seeing to this day and it appears absolutely nothing has been learned in over 20 years. Richard Jewell was far from the first to be victimised by the media and stereotyped by the Government and certainly won’t be the last, yet his story remains as important and relevant as ever.
Richard Jewell is available now on UK Digital Platforms and on DVD in the UK from 8th June through Warner Home Entertainment.
Paul Walter Hauser's exceptional portayal of Jewell
Impressive performances from multi-Oscar winning support
Infuriates in its story of media and Government witch hunt
Hesitant to confidently point the finger at offending parties