‘Richard Jewell’ A Powerful Reminder of Injustice (FILM REVIEW)

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The story of Richard Jewell is a tragic one.

As a security guard out of Atlanta, he rose to international fame on the night of July 27, 1996, when he found a backpack containing pipe bombs in Centennial Park during the Olympic Games. Overnight, he became a hero. Just as quickly, he became public enemy number one.

Under immense pressure to find the man responsible for the bombing, which killed two and injured hundreds, the FBI focused their attention on Jewell, who soon felt the glare of international media as, increasingly, it looked as though he planted the bomb himself in order to gain just the type of acclaim he initially received.

Thanks to a leak within the FBI, which found its way to Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, Jewell was, perhaps, the first individual to be tried by media in the modern journalistic age. He was, of course, completely innocent.

Not only is Jewell’s story tragic, it now serves as a cautionary tale. In a rush to find answers, it’s easy to turn your focus in the wrong direction. In today’s 24/7 news cycle world, this is important to remember. It is, perhaps, more important than ever to pay heed to these lessons in the world where social media and news media are increasingly intertwined.

Clint Eastwood reminds us of this lesson in his latest film, Richard Jewell. Working from a screenplay by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Captain Phillips), Eastwood brings new, much needed prominence to the story of Jewell in his best movie since 2009’s Invictus.

Jewell is brought back to life by Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya) in an emotional, gut wrenching performance that reminds of the need for temperance of judgment. Joining him are Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) as lawyer Watson Bryant, who led the charge of defending Jewell when the media, the public, and the world was ready to condemn him. Kathy Bates joins as Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, in a gut-wrenching performance.

Eastwood and Ray focus their drama on the impact that the scrutiny and suspicion had on Jewell, a man who, ultimately, saved countless lives that infamous night. Ray crafted a series of composite FBI characters, most notably that of Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) who acts as the main antagonist of the film. The director and writer turn the story into a complex study of over-zealous policing which, in turn, becomes over-zealous journalism. The complex relationship between media and police is looked at under a microscope here, showing us how, in the rush to solve the case, so much can go so wrong.

While the script does suffer from some over-sentimental moments, and the film itself runs a tad on the long side, the performances and subject matter are enrapturing. Hauser, especially, gives an applause-worthy turn, never shying away from Jewell’s curious demeanor and mama’s boy visage. Ultimately, we’re left with a powerful reminder of the danger of jumping to conclusions without facts. What makes for a good story isn’t always the correct story to tell. Jewell, who died in 2007, will always serve as the most salient case study of media and police work gone wrong. Eastwood and co. have created a powerful monument to that fact.

Richard Jewell is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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