Everyone has defining moments; those “do you remember where you were” kinds of events. For me, this means things like the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the Oklahoma City Bombing and of course, 9/11. I can still remember exactly what I was doing when those events happened, and many also hold the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the bomb that went off there to that list. Clint Eastwood has taken the story of the man first accused of being the perpetrator of this attack and brought his story to the screen with a film named after him, “Richard Jewell”.
Paul Walter Hauser (BlacKKKlansman, I, Tonya) plays the title character, a man who was a law enforcement hopeful that could never really get his career off the ground. Living at home with his mother, he gets a job with the security personnel at Centennial Park during the Summer Games (where most of the concerts were held). On July 27th, 1996, he spots a suspicious backpack and reported it. By the time it was discovered to be a bomb and the evacuation was started, the device detonated, injuring one hundred eleven people and killing two more. From there, this film chronicles Jewell’s story from hero to the accused by the FBI and its lead agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), and the subsequent media backlash led by newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) and then the man who stands up for himself with the help of an old friend in Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell).
There is some CGI in this film used in order to create Atlanta during that time, but just enough to make everything authentic and accurate. I really noticed this during the scenes that featured the apartment Richard shared with his mother and the parking lot where the media circus took. The cast itself has a number of people who deserve nominations (if not wins) in the next few months, like Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother, who goes through the same emotions as her son, and Rockwell as the attorney who may be in over his head as his client keeps shooting himself in the foot. And trust me: I know there is talk about Joaquin Phoenix as Best Actor, but I am saying it right now,: Hauser has him beat in my eyes! He is that good as the oversized Barney Fife who just can’t get out of his own way because he believes he is helping out “fellow law enforcement”. There were so many times I shook my head at him thinking, “Just listen to your lawyer and keep your mouth shut!” with me going from laughing at him to wanting to cry for him. If he does not get nominated next year (much less get some awards), there is something wrong.
At just over two hours, I feel that the story was told well without too much extra that did not need to be there. My biggest criticism, though, is the way the FBI is portrayed in “Richard Jewell” because they did (and should have) looked into the bombing, but the film shows them as if they tried to frame him in ways that would not be done in a normal investigation, like working to get him to give them evidence without his attorney in the room. In normal due process, this would get all of that thrown out of evidence in court. The real issue here should focus on the court of public opinion who made him out to be a monster that he wasn’t instead of villainizing an agency that was doing its job. I still enjoyed the film overall, so I will recommend “Richard Jewell” as a twilight showing in the theaters.