When it comes to stories based on real-life, certain film production companies tends to overdramatize some aspects of the tale to bring in a higher box office take. It is what it is. Historical accuracy frequently takes a backseat to entertainment value. The 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, as an attendee of the event, I can say it was a spectacle worth seeing.
Many of the world’s greatest athletes had flown into Atlanta for the event. The Olympic village was abuzz with excitement for the coming sporting event. Sadly, as history shows, the event was marred by a terrorist attack carried out by right-wing extremist Eric Robert Rudolph. History also shows that the FBI behaved recklessly during the search for the bomber.
Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell, revolves around a miscarriage-of-justice tale which addresses the so-called evils of “big government.” Like Eastwood’s 2016 film Sully, this film focuses on a regular guy that behaves heroically.
During the Atlanta games, Rudolph (Eric Mendenhall) planted a pipe bomb at the city’s Centennial Park. When the bomb exploded, with one person killed, many people were injured. Rudolph wasn’t caught until 2003. You might be wondering why it is there weren’t more fatalities. The low casualty figure can be attributed to the actions of one man: Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser).
Jewell, an unassuming overweight security guard, dreamed of being a police officer. Even though Jewell was a tad nerdy whilst at home, living with his mother, his work life was always on point. He was a stickler for protocol.
It was Jewell that had observed an unattended backpack. Consequently, because of his observations, he determined the best course of action would be to guide crowds away from the area. The security guard’s actions were met with scepticism from the FBI. FBI profilers determined Jewell fitted their profile of a sociopath that would deliberately plant bombs in public areas so that he could be seen playing the hero.
The bureau had its sights set on the wrong man. Without conclusive evidence that Jewell had done anything to warrant suspicion, to make the suspect crack, the FBI leaked certain details to the local media. Despite how he was treated throughout the entire affair, Jewell somehow found the strength to remain strong. The historical record shows the FBI’s suspicions were unwarranted.
With a screenplay written by Billy Ray, Eastwood’s film is based on the 1997 Marie Brenner written Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” and the 2019 published Kent Alexander/Kevin Salwen co-written book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle. Further to Paul Walter Hauser, the cast also includes Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Ian Gomez, and Kathy Bates.
It is suggested real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) has sex with sources to land stories on deadline. Consider the source. The right-wing director has actress depict left-wing journalist as moralistically empty.
Did the journalist have sex with FBI Special Agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) to get the story? Considering this character was created specifically for this film, a composite of several real FBI agents, the answer to that question is NO. Shaw didn’t exist. There is no evidence suggesting Scruggs used sex to further her career.
Was there anything in Scruggs’ article that wasn’t true? Scruggs merely reported the facts. Even though Scruggs highlighted Jewell was a suspect, something that was true, at no time did the real-life journalist say he was responsible for the bombing.
The film version of the character is just that. It’s a distortion of reality to cater to a specific mindset. The real-life Kathy Scruggs, having died of an apparent overdose in 2001, is unable to defend herself.
Hauser, when it comes to this film, is the star. He plays the security officer, a profoundly vulnerable and lonely figure, perfectly. Jewell, yearning to have the authority that comes with being a police officer, I the only hero in this film. The FBI agents, despite their job title, prove themselves to be not that special.