Richard Jewell is the latest film by Clint Eastwood, and it’s one of his best since he’s begun focusing on real life heroes and showcasing their stories on the big screen in recent years. The story focuses on the fallout of the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and how security guard Richard Jewell went from being a hero to a potential terrorist in a matter of days. This was greatly in part due to the media circus that exploded once the FBI let it slip that Jewell was a suspect, and like we see incredibly often these days, Jewell was judged by the media and public before he was even interviewed by the FBI, sending his life into downward spiral.
Now, while this is the story of Jewell and making sure it’s clear that he was without question a hero that fateful night, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray both are guilty of just flipping the script on the media here. What I mean is that when your movie is about real people it’s important to make sure you do them all justice, and not simply focus on one side of the story without presenting all the facts properly from all ends. Especially when it comes to a story like this, where the entire point of the film is how easy it is to make someone into something else if you jump the gun and don’t do proper research.
The issue in this film, after doing some research of my own after watching, was how reporter Kathy Scruggs was portrayed in the film. Played by Olivia Wilde, Scruggs is showcased as a loud, arrogant reporter who looks down on everyone else and will do anything to get the inside scoop of a story – including sexual favours. Scruggs was the first person to break the story on Jewell being a potential suspect, and in the film she attains this information by offering to sleep with the lead investigator on the case, Tom Shaw, played by Jon Hamm. They’re at a bar, she makes the offer, he tells her they’re looking at Jewell, she then sleeps with him and writes the story.
It’s beyond clear by this point that Scruggs is the film’s antagonist, but she really shouldn’t have been. Her colleagues all spoke out, saying that while she could be loud and brash, she was a good reporter who would never trade sex for information. Yet Eastwood and Ray both chose to add it and went all in on Scruggs being the villain. Now, was she blameless in this? No. But she also wasn’t lying in her initial story either. The FBI was looking into Jewell, and a judge would later deem that enough and Jewell’s lawsuit against the paper was ruled in favour of the paper, as it wasn’t defamation because those were the facts at the time.
That said, Scruggs did showcase Jewell as an ideal suspect, fitting the profile of the lone white male bomber. She compared him to serial killer Wayne Williams, and this one article is what started everything. The next day major media outlets picked up on the story and there was no stopping it. At that point it was out of her hands, yet she’s the face of the media in the film and without looking into it further myself, I would’ve thought she was pure evil if I just went off of how she was portrayed here.
And that’s the problem, as this film basically does to Scruggs what the media did to Jewell back then, yet it’s viewed as okay here. At one point in the film Scruggs realizes she got it wrong, but other than a few tears, that’s pretty much it. It would’ve been a much stronger film had Eastwood focused mainly on Jewell and his story, but also showed Scruggs and her side of it as well. Or simply take her out of the equation entirely if you’re not going to handle it properly and just focus on the media explosion that followed a random leak of information. But if you’re going to make put Scruggs in the film, and also make her a fairly big supporting character — and the face of the entire media frenzy in the film — then why take half-measures and go against the entire point of your film, which is to try and portray the true events of what went down and how it ruined a man’s life, by arguably doing something similar to Scruggs here?
Why not just focus on the faceless media being the big bad? That alone is a powerful story, and it works just as well when you show that the media can make mistakes, and authority figures can make errors, and that maybe we shouldn’t always jump to conclusions about people before charges are even laid and a trial has taken place. You can tell that story while also portraying all sides of that story as human beings. Richard Jewell was a hero, no question, and he didn’t deserve the hell that rained down upon him after this story broke – but it did happen, so if you’re going to tell his story, then do him the service of telling it properly instead of using it to smear the name of others along the way, otherwise, what is there to learn?
So if you can pretend the reporter is just a nameless reporter that never really existed, who through her own deviant ways ended up breaking the same story that Scruggs’ did, then by all means do that. By doing so you’ll at least get to enjoy a fantastic performance by Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Jewell superbly. He’s an easy character to get behind because you want him to succeed, you want to see him have his name cleared, and it hurts to see how quickly his life turned to shambles because of a simple article blowing up all over the media.
Sam Rockwell plays his attorney, Watson Bryant, Kathy Bates plays Jewell’s mother, Bobi and both are incredibly easy to watch and root for as well; though I do wish Bryant actually did more in the film. I’m not sure how much he did in reality during this time; but in the film it feels like he’s constantly just sitting there while Jewell digs himself deeper, and while he does try to help where he can, at times it does sort of feel like things sort of play out in the movie despite of him.
For those who are interested in a solid film that’s a dramatic retelling of the events surrounding Richard Jewell after the bombing at the Olympics, then you probably won’t find anything better than this. Eastwood handles the drama incredibly well, and while the film is just over two hours, it never really drags – unlike Eastwood’s previous real-life heroes docudrama, The 15:17 to Paris, which was a cure for insomnia. With that said, it’s unfortunate that Eastwood and Ray decided to drag someone else’s name through the mud in order to tell this story, and in doing so all but negating the entire point they’re trying to make with this film to begin with.
The film looks great, as do most of Eastwood’s movies. The cinematography and overall imagery allows the film to keep an ominous thematic look to it, while never making it obviously so. It’s a very natural looking film, which helps keep it based in the reality that it’s aimed to be set in. The audio is also well handled, from the score to the dialogue, with each complimenting one another greatly.
The Making of Richard Jewell – This featurette is just under 7-minuutes in length and basically covers usual suspects: casting, crew, location, the story. The cast and crew pop up to talk about the film and what it’s like taking part as well.
The Real Story of Richard Jewell – This one is a bit shorter, and just over six and a half minutes in length. Here we see Richard’s mother Bobi and Watson Bryant talk about being on set to help tell the story. Everyone also talks about the mob mentality of today, and cancel culture and how we’ve learned nothing. While I didn’t expect a documentary about Jewell here, I did expect more than just a few thoughts from those involved as to what went down. Neither extra really impresses, so you’re fine to skip them if you’re looking for something of importance here.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents Richard Jewell. Directed by: Clint Eastwood. Written by: Billy Ray. Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Jon Hamm, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Kathy Bates. Running time: 129 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Mar. 17, 2020.
Tags: Clint Eastwood, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, Kathy Scruggs, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell, Sam Rockwell