~By Norm Robins~
Richard Jewell was a real-life bona fide hero. While working as a security guard he discovers a pipe bomb left in a knapsack larded with explosives and very hard masonry nails under a bench at the 1968 Atlanta Olympics. Calling in the cops and bringing in a U.S. Air Force bomb squad makes him a hero by even the most ordinary of measures. Only one or two people die in the subsequent explosion, depending on whose numbers you believe. But many more are injured, people whose lives might be lost but for Jewell’s presence of mind. Richard Jewell clears the periphery near the bomb including a tower housing journalists and camera crew despite the protests of the occupants.
He is hailed as a hero, but the FBI and the press need a criminal, and together they develop a narrative to find one. The narrative goes something like this: Jewell was a peace officer wannabe. He had a security job once at a small college but was fired. He tried to stop the drinking on campus per the express policy of the college president. He held a job once as a sheriff’s deputy but was fired from that. He wants terribly to be in law enforcement, but the closest he can come is a job as a security guard at the Olympics in Atlanta. He is fat. As General and World War II hero Douglas Macarthur did for a while, Jewell lives with his mother. This was a damning sign for Jewell, but it did nothing to injure the reputation of Macarthur.
The FBI psychologists, heavily credentialed one and all, decide that hero Jewell fits their psychological profile as the bomber. They have no evidence, only facts about Jewell’s personal life and their one-size-fits-all template. The FBI compares Jewell and the template and they match. Jewell is damned. Jewell is doomed. Atlanta Constitution Journal journalist Kathy Scruggs, a woman who would sell her grandmother for an exclusive and deliver for a byline, is having a very pragmatic sexual affair with the FBI agent in charge of the case. At a bar over cocktails and playing around with the agent’s mid-body erogenous zones she wheedles the inside scoop from him that Jewell is not a hero at all but the prime suspect in the case. He fits the profile. And the power of the press is unleashed against him.
The government with its unlimited powers and resources and the press, both of whom are accountable to no one, establish their narrative that Jewell is the bomber. The disgruntled college president who fired Jewell fingers him. He says Jewell is unstable. Jewell is profiled as a frustrated law enforcement wannabe who planted the bomb and subsequently discovered it to make himself a hero and get a job in law enforcement. And they both, FBI and press, working hand in hand in an unholy alliance, proceed to make Jewell’s, his mother’s and his attorney’s lives living hells. The FBI is especially damnable for using every device at their disposal, legal or illegal, to trap the unwitting patsy Jewell and justify their preordained narrative. The FBI can lie and lie and lie again without injury to them. But if Jewell lies to them, even if it is because of a flawed memory, he commits a felony.
The movie has a happy ending with Jewell exonerated, his mother utterly relieved, and his friend and attorney the new hero of the story. Would that were always the case.
Clint Eastwood, obviously distressed by the current level of criminality and abuse of power at the FBI and the complicity of the press, has made a powerful, compelling movie to showcase them. What does an ordinary Joe, a Johnny Lunch Bucket so to speak, relatively uneducated and unlettered, do in a circumstance like this? How does he cope? Where does he hide?
Eastwood’s directing is flawless. Paul Richard Hauser who plays Richard Jewell is a fat man who looks like Jewell. He is convincing in the part and plays it beautifully. Kathy Bates who is always a pro plays his mother. Sam Rockwell plays Watson Bryant, Jewell’s oft-exasperated attorney, and Jon Hamm plays Jewell’s and Rockwell’s evil, manipulative FBI nemesis Tom Shaw. Olivia Wilde plays the pragmatic journalist Kathy Scruggs. Nina Arianda plays lawyer Bryant’s assistant Nadya. To see them is to believe them in their roles.
This movie, released only a few months ago, was not put in theaters. For the moment they are dark. It was released to streaming services like Amazon Prime. At 5 bucks it is the bargain of all bargains. It is well worth seeing at a price less than the change in your pocket or purse. See this movie.