Richard Jewell is the biographical drama directed by Clint Eastwood who was wrongfully accused of masterminding the bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. Billy Ray is the scriptwriter who adapted most of the material from an article by Marie Brenner and a book by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen. The cast includes Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Kathy Bates, and Paul Walter Hauser. Hauser takes on the title role as the well-meaning yet awkward Richard Jewell. Rockwell plays the well-meaning yet much more intimidating attorney, Watson Bryant, who comes to Jewell’s aid. There has been some controversy swirling around the depiction of Wilde’s role of recklessly ambitious reporter Kathy Scruggs. It was rather heavily suggested that Scruggs had used her feminine wiles on a source to get information about who the FBI were considering as the culprit behind the bombing. Her newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has weighed in their displeasure about how their contribution to the brouhaha at the time was presented. Scruggs herself is deceased, so she doesn’t have the opportunity to share her thoughts in the matter. I would imagine she would raise all kinds of hell if she could.
Anyway, Eastwood once again comes up with a very compelling story to relate. The movie is pretty captivating in spite of the questions of authenticity surrounding it. It does appear that Rockwell’s character is some kind of composite fictional character since I can’t seem to find a badass attorney named Watson Bryant on Google. That’s too bad because it’s a great name. The performances are all really powerful. Of course, with Rockwell, that’s not surprising. Bates also deserves some mention here for her presence playing Jewell’s mother. She’s also reliably compelling in whatever role she takes on, so that’s also not a shocker either.
There were some times I thought Scruggs came off as a bit of a caricature of an overzealous reporter, but that may have more to do with the writing than Wilde putting in a poor performance. Some of the more egregious acts by the FBI in the film were apparently true. I did some checking on the how some of the actual moments went down, and the film doesn’t appear to veer too far into the realm of utter fiction. In spite of the hurt feelings being reported by some of the actual players or entities involved, the film still held my attention. The film does well with pointing out the hazards of a rush of judgment and that sometimes even the press could use a critical eye when judging the veracity of what is reported. It is terribly sad that Jewell himself did not live too many years after being essentially vindicated from suspicion. He likely still would never have gotten the respect he deserved for his heroic contribution in saving some lives on that terrible day in 1996. He did come out on top when it came to the lawsuits filed against the news agencies that contributed to his difficulties afterward.
Anyway, my recommendation is to check this film out and make your mind up. Eastwood is closing in on 90 years old and can still put together a decent piece of work, so that’s also worthy of some respect.