Mike at the Movies: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell (R)

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) was the security guard at the Olympic Park in Atlanta who was hailed as a hero immediately after the bombing, appearing with Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and others. He lived with his mother, Bobi, and desperately wanted to be a law enforcement officer. He often says, “I’m in law enforcement, too.” He thinks so because he’s a security guard and was once a deputy and once a security guard at Piedmont College. He was fired by the college because of excessive enthusiasm.

The security position at Olympic Park was, in his mind, his first step back to full status in the law: local, county, state police, GBI, FBI, Secret Service. As he woefully tells FBI agents interviewing him: “I was raised to respect authority, sir.”

Jewell, as portrayed, is a very simple man, marginally mentally handicapped, who lives with his mother and has few friends. He unfortunately fit the profile of an FBI psychologist and his life is never the same.

FBI Agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) tells a reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), about the FBI’s suspicions and she explodes the story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) and ruins Richard’s life as well as that of his mother (Kathy Bates).

The parade of injustice continues as Jewell, originally cast as the hero of the blast that killed two and injured over a hundred, sees the press and public turn against him. It should be pointed out that numerous lawsuits have emerged over the film, most notably over the contention in the film that Scruggs traded sex for the story. I did not see that link in the film, though there is a suggestion that Scruggs (who died of a drug overdose in 2001) was open to having sex with Agent Shaw.

The film does touch directly on media responsibility and explains how lives are destroyed quickly. Jewell’s lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), explains it to his client: “Everyone wants to fry you. You’re bacon.”

It is difficult for someone of my age to realize that most Americans probably don’t know the name “Richard Jewell” or know what happened in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics there. That may be because the actual bomber was not arrested until six years later. There is plenty of drama in the situation. Director Clint Eastwood wisely tried to play down the easy drama and even tried to insert some gentle humor into the script. He succeeded, which makes this superb film even better.