What would you do if you find a dead body? Will you report It despite the fact that law enforcement may consider you as the primary suspect? How would you react if you find an abandoned backpack in a crowded place? It does not cause any trouble by reporting a suspicious activity we notice, but it’s the end result that we can barely predict. If the finding is a tremendous one, how would we be hailed? A hero or a criminal? Sadly, in the society we live in, it can end both ways the same way it happened to the titular character of Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”.
Set in 1996, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) lands a dream job as a security guard during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Proudly serving his duty and simply doing his job, he discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench in Centennial Park. While all his colleagues would look at him as an exaggerator, but his insistence helps save hundreds of lives as on the inside of the same backpack was a 3 pipe bomb. Hailed as a hero, the modest Richard Jewell is happy by making his mom (Kathy Bates) proud. However, the moment of joy lasts only three days as he turns into the primary suspect by the FBI.
Richard Jewell is a very quiet man with characteristics, not many possess. He is persistent and uncompromising when it comes to doing his job. He won’t let students at campus drink alcohol and is bold enough to say the same to his direct boss before he gets fired. There’s something about Jewell that irritates people but once we get to know him, we realize why. As a straight shooter, Jewell tells nothing but the truth. He has his own ideology, believes in the system, and obeys the rules. He would rather lose his job than have himself doing the wrong thing.
When he gets a job as a security guard in Centennial Park, from the way he walks, we can surely tell how much he enjoys every moment of it and has no intention of hiding it. It’s not because he wants to show off but rather emphasize it to himself as another step in the ladder of his career. When he notices the backpack, chaos begins. In the end, by helping evacuate as many people as possible, he saves lives. Journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), using her source in the FBI, broke the news by letting the world know that the man they consider a hero is being named as the prime suspect in the bombing.
There was a lot of controversy behind Kathy Scruggs’ persona in the film or how she obtained such information from her source in the FBI. Even though we don’t know how it all happened in real life, Eastwood, in the meantime, allows the portrayed version of Scruggs to have an intimate relationship with an FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hall) in order to extract the needed information. True or not, for the viewer, it still may appear as a dramatized version of events that maybe never took place in real life.
All that, however, did not stop the film from shining. It’s an excellent way of describing the madness that can be created by the media when they vilify an ordinary person by turning him into evil. As you watch “Richard Jewell”, we never judge Wilde’s Scruggs for what she has done. In reality, she has not done anything wrong, as it was not her fault that the FBI chose the wrong target for their investigation. All that she did, as any journalist would do, is cover the news. And there is nothing wrong about that.
In conclusion, “Richard Jewell”, is a brilliant film from the legendary Eastwood who knows how to handle any material. As an old school, he takes his own approach to tell the story in a manner only he can. A slow-paced drama and exquisitely written script allow the entire cast to shine, starting with Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell, Kathy Bates as Barbi Jewell and Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s lawyer. But the best thing about Eastwood’s film is its strong and crucial concept of how one man’s name can be destroyed within seconds due to false narrative. Although many say it was because of the media, if you watch the film till the end, you will realize that it was not because of Kathy Scruggs’ article but because of other circumstances surrounding the case which I sincerely hope, after giving it a chance, you can find out for yourself.