Security guard Richard Jewell saves hundreds of lives from an exploding pipe bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, only to be railroaded as the prime suspect by an incompetent FBI and cynical press. Based on a true story. [ Richard Jewell credits: Dir: Clint Eastwood/ Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell/ 131 min/ Drama/ Incompetent government, Government as bigot, Law & liberty, Working for government/ 2019]
“Richard Jewell is an engaging, at times heart-wrenching film, and an act of justice — one might even say vengeance.”
This is the story of an innocent man nearly destroyed — ruined and maligned — by institutions that were intended to protect the innocent. It’s a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that you can reliably trust the government, the press, or for that matter any organization that has power. That was Jewell’s vulnerability – he did trust these institutions, and they nearly delivered him a death sentence.
Richard Jewell aspired to a role in law enforcement, where he expected he would be keeping the peace and shielding the defenseless. He got a job as a security guard and was eventually assigned to a minor position at the Atlanta Olympics. While there, he spotted an abandoned backpack that bomb experts subsequently found to contain three large pipe bombs. Jewell helped to clear the area of staff and attendees; and when the bomb unexpectedly went off, he assisted the victims. He was an ordinary guy turned extraordinary hero, and for a moment enjoyed the public adulation he deserved.
Unfortunately, the FBI felt he fit a bomber “profile” they had seen before. They had nothing on him, but since he was a white male, unmarried, and with law enforcement aspirations, they came up with a theory that he had placed the bomb himself so he could be glorified as the one who discovered it. That was all they had, no evidence, just a profile he happened to fit. The full force of the FBI was brought down on Jewell – every inch of his life inspected, probed, and of course leaked to an obliging press. Jewell made things worse by cooperating. He couldn’t believe the FBI wasn’t just seeking the truth that he was sure would clear him. He didn’t understand that they were simply gathering evidence to support what they already assumed. Meanwhile, in an early case of fake news, the press cooperated in making Jewell a public laughingstock and loathed pariah.
In the end, the FBI couldn’t prove anything, and the case was dropped. Years later, the real bomber was caught. But the lengthy investigation and public ridicule took its toll, and Jewell died at 44 of a failing heart.
To these institutions, Jewell was a throwaway, a “deplorable” before the word had that meaning, an overweight, poorly educated southern white male who lived with his mother. They had no respect for him and little regret for having used up his life. Nobody was fired for what happened to him and no one apologized. That is our world, ordinary people at the mercy of ever more powerful, ever more coordinated, institutions that pay no price for wrongdoing.
Richard Jewell is an engaging, at times heart-wrenching film, and an act of justice — one might even say vengeance. It’s made all the more so by astoundingly good performances, particularly on the part of Paul Walter Hauser, as Jewell, and Kathy Bates, as his mother. It’s a small mercy that Jewell’s mother lived long enough to see it. Clint Eastwood has delivered in this another masterpiece of story-telling, and for the third time in the last three years focused on real-life heroes (he made Sully in 2016, and The 15:17 to Paris in 2018).
It may have crossed your mind that Jewell’s case is not unrelated to the current political battle, or perhaps class war, going on between our highly-educated lefty elite that run virtually all of the country’s institutions, and the various largely powerless groups that in many instances oppose them. That thought certainly crossed the minds of left-wing reviewers. The New Republic said the film is “quasi-paranoid libertarianism — you can’t trust what you read in the papers, and you can’t trust the agents of the state;” Detroit News called it “an anti-authoritarian screed…informed by the current administration’s views of [journalists] as the ‘enemy of the people’;” Vulture commented “it can’t be an accident that Richard Jewell shows the enemies of truth and justice to be the FBI and the press, both of which have been targeted by the current administration.” Yes, what happened to Richard Jewell took place more than twenty years ago, and yet, given what has been going on lately, his story is inescapably timely.
“Richard Jewell is a study, not a diatribe, about runaway media and FBI agents victimizing an innocent man. Paul Walter Hauser commands the screen as the security guard falsely accused of the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta.”
“Yes, this is a great movie, and a magnificent centerpiece performance by an unknown actor named Paul Walter Hauser in the title role is a major reason it is so unforgettable.”
How to See It
Amazon (Instant Video)
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SNL mocks NBC for false accusation of Jewell