4 out of 5 stars
Our world is inundated with news on terrorism and acts against humanity every minute on social media. To be reminded of a bombing that occurred in 1996 might be a stretch for some of us. For others, this event at the Atlanta Olympics may still be fresh in our memories. What might be less memorable was the media firestorm that occurred after the devastating act of terror. How the security guard who discovered the bomb went from a hero to a suspect in a matter of days and the events that made Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) into an unwilling media star.
For all of those who were unfamiliar to the situation that occurred at the 1996 Olympics, things began early in the morning at Centennial Olympic Park. During the celebrations that occurred around the various athletic events, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was performing for revellers in the early morning when a bomb was discovered by a security guard. Richard Jewell had been working as a guard at the park and had alerted authorities to the suspicious package. While the police and security team worked to get the crowds to move away from the backpack, it detonates and kills three people and injured many others. During the aftermath, the media seeks out the unassuming security agent and sets him up as a hero saved the lives of most of the people who were in the park that night.
Within days of the bombing, the admiration of Jewell turns into scrutiny as the FBI begins to look into this "wanna-be" police officer. The investigative team led by FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) begins to dig into Richard’s past and think they have enough to prosecute the man for this crime. Then when the story is leaked to reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the media firestorm begins to come down on the unassuming man and his mother, Barbara "Bobi" Jewell (Kathy Bates). Even though Jewell cooperates at first, his good-natured naïveté begins to make him more of a suspect and he eventually needs to reach out to Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a friend and a lawyer who must work quickly to help Richard out of the devastating impact of this investigation and the media scrutiny.
What stands out about this film is that the 89-year-old that sits in the director’s chair continues to make compelling stories about everyday people in extraordinary situations. Clint Eastwood may not direct films with over the top action or beautiful lead acting talent, but he can squeeze every bit of drama out of the most unassuming stories. Then the direct/actor manages to get some of the best performances from his cast, lead actors through to his supporting cast. A talent we hope to see for many years to come, Clint keeps going as long as you can.
Similar to his excursions in The Mule and Sully, Eastwood finds a way to make the mundane into something compelling. Richard Jewell is not a leading man in any sense of the word, but Paul Walter Hauser turns an awkward individual into a likeable and empathetic character. His portrayal is a painful and fascinating character study that will hold audiences attention until the dramatic conclusion. Adding to his understated but brilliant performance was some of the best acting from Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde. Then Eastwood incorporates the masterful skills of the Academy Award-winning talents of Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates which turns this from a standard bio-pic to one of the most under-appreciated and rewarding films of the year.
It is one thing to focus on the tragedy of the Olympic bombing and show the significant historical event it became, but to apply the personal story of Richard Jewell was ingenious. These are the quiet films that need to be celebrated and stories that should be brought to light. A gift of Clint Eastwood is his innate ability to find heroes in the most unassuming places. Digging into their history and with little fanfare, he manages to show us that every person’s life has something to say about this world and each battle we face is worth fighting for in the end.
Reel Dialogue: Celebrating the awkward and the weird
The portrayal of Richard Jewell was challenging to watch, because he represented everything that we hope to not be in life. He tried too hard to fit in and his passions made him socially awkward. Richard was not gifted with the physical features of Brad Pitt (more like the Pillsbury Doughboy) and he seemed to be a man who only his mother could really love. Yet, if he had not been there on that fateful night in Atlanta, more people would have died. An overly energetic security guard was not fully appreciated and even abused, but he still managed to do exactly what he was there to do, keep others safe.
Society has a tendency to marginalise those who are awkward and not appreciate them for their talents. The Bible is full of individuals who were rejected by their communities, who go on to prove their worth to the world. John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Noah, and many of Jesus' disciples (to name a few) were not the elite or revered of their eras. Still, they went on to make significant contributions to mankind and two of the world’s most prominent faith-based groups.
Have you taken a moment to see that awkward co-worker, church attendee, or neighbour as having something special to add to life? They may never get world-wide recognition or be written in the annals of history, but they might be the very person that will make a difference in your life. The only way to know is to take the time to hear their story. Who knows, this might be the beginning of a friendship or at minimum a means of celebrating another human’s life. At the end of the day, we all can be the awkward and weird one in the office, neighbourhood and church. Wouldn’t we all hope that someone would reach out to us?