You will hear a lot about Richard Jewell, the movie from director Clint Eastwood (“The Mule”, “Sully”) and written by Billy Ray (“Terminator: Dark Fate”, “Captain Phillips”), and not a lot of it is good.
Having been kindly sent a preview of the forthcoming Warner Brothers DVD release we are at a loss as to explain why this is.
Richard Jewell is the tragic tale of a man who is tried and convicted by not just the US media, but also the FBI, for the bombing in Centennial Park in 1996 during the Olympics. It’s as if this is an early warning system for ‘trial by media’, a warning that we have missed, worldwide.
Jewell, played brilliantly by Paul Walter Hauser (“I, Tonya”, “BlacKkKlansman”), was a simple man who lived for the law, but was overzealous at times in his approach, either as a police office or as a security officer.
One night, whilst working in Centennial Park, he spots a backpack that has been left unattended. He lets the police who are working that night know about it, they call a bomb guy who unstraps it to find three large pipe bombs.
Around this time the police also received a phone call from the bomber, from pay phones at the park, warning them of the device and that they have 30 minutes before it goes off.
As Jewell and his fellow security and police try to move the crowds back, the bomb detonates, nails flying in all directions, injuring hundreds and killing two.
The numbers could have been much, much higher but for two things; one was Jewell finding the backpack and convincing other to take it seriously and follow protocol, the second was that, just before Jewell spotted the backpack, a bunch of kids were messing around and knocked the backpack flat, meaning the shrapnel went upwards, rather than out.
The FBI, as is their want, decide to investigate Jewell, which is reasonably standard procedure, after all, there have been cases of the ‘finder’ also being the perpetrator.
However, a member of the FBI leaks Jewell’s name to the Atlanta press and Kathy Scruggs, Olivia Wilde (“Her”, “Rush”), seizes her opportunity to make it big in the world and gleefully runs with the story.
This sees Jewell go from a national hero to public, media and FBI enemy number one. The world turns on him, with zero evidence, with no facts, Jewell is tried and convicted in the media. Still, to this day, people will identify Jewell as the bomber despite, some six years later, the FBI finally catching a man who admitted to it all.
Jewell does have one friend, Watson Bryant, Sam Rockwell (“Jojo Rabbit”, “Vice”) an attorney who takes his case on and quickly realises that Jewell couldn’t have planted the bomb and made the phone call.
Jewell would have to have made the journey from the payphones where the phone call was made, to where he was last seen in one minute, a journey that actually takes six minutes, and Jewell is not a small man.
Eastwood catches all this with a warmth and humour that makes Richard Jewell a joy to watch. He also gets some brilliant performances from his cast, from Hauser, Rockwell, Wilde and not forgetting Kathy Bates (“The Highwaymen”, “Bad Santa 2”) as Jewell’s mother.
As for the DVD, there’s a very short documentary that covers the making of the film and the involvement of Jewell’s mother and Bryant, his attorney, but you feel there should have been more.