When the fate of your movie depends on the talents of one single actor—a relative unknown in the title role, no less—he (or she) had better be up to the task.
Paul Walter Hauser was director Clint Eastwood’s choice to play Richard Jewell, the man falsely accused of placing a deadly bomb at Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. Houser delivers a stunning performance.
The ordeal Jewell endured that summer at the hands of the FBI and local and national media outlets was brutal. He and his mother Barbara (Kathy Bates) managed to survive the intense pressure.
More than just the story about Jewell being named the FBI’s prime suspect and the media attention that followed, Richard Jewell presents a close look at Richard Jewell the man.
As I watched this movie, I felt a special connection to Jewell because he reminded me of my brother who died in 2013. Jim was heavy. Okay, obese. He lived his entire life in the South (Birmingham). He had worked security jobs. He had law enforcement ambitions. He got an associates degree in criminal justice several years after obtaining his BA degree. And he died at an early age. (Jewell’s passing is noted in the film’s end notes.)
Much like Jewell is portrayed in the film, my brother was a nice guy with a good nature. Overly trusting, sometimes gullible. But despite all the crap life threw at him, he maintained an upbeat attitude.
The culprits in Richard Jewell are FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). The FBI pegs Jewell as the possible bomber based on profiling and Shaw leaks to Scruggs that Jewell is the prime suspect. The paper breaks the story in a page one headline that transforms Jewell from hero to accused terrorist.
(There is controversy about the role of Scruggs, a real life journalist who is now deceased. The movie indicates she may have traded sexual favors to Shaw for his tip about Jewell. The newspaper denies this. Much has been written and more will be written about the movie’s accuracy and about the media’s obsession with the Jewell case. Does this possible embellishment call other details of the story into question? Not necessarily.)
The hero of the story is attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) whose efforts to keep Jewell from talking to the FBI are futile. Because Jewell feels that he, too, as a security guard is a sort of law enforcement brother to the FBI guys.
This movie will be attacked by numerous media outlets because it portrays news media as vultures who are eager to convict based on hearsay. But if you enjoy a story about heroism and humanity, don’t skip this film.
One more note about Hauser. As a native Southerner, I’ve heard actors—Oscar winners, even—try to replicate an authentic Southern accent and fail miserably. Hauser, who was raised in Michigan, sounds like a native son of the South. Good job, buddy!
One more note about Clint Eastwood. The man turned 89 in May and keeps turning out quality work. He is a true national treasure.