Life can be cruel to some people for no reason. One person who had to endure this unkind treatment was Richard Jewell, who started out as being in the right place at the right time, before it was determined that maybe he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The American security guard was the individual who discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs at the Centennial Olympic Park on 27 July 1996, during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jewell diligently alerted the police and helped evacuate the area before the bomb exploded. The man saved many from injury or death, and was naturally celebrated in the media as a hero. But knowing how narrowly filtered the media is, especially in its hunger to create news, things soon took an unexpected turn and Jewell was soon painted by the media as a terrorist who possibly placed the explosive device himself.
For viewers who are unfamiliar with the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and its aftermath, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort is an engaging drama about a man who was wrongly accused of a terrible crime he did not commit. For those who have some recollections about the incident, the film is a stark reminder about the power of media, it’s lack of responsible coverage, and the dreadful consequences that follow.
The titular character is empathetically portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser, who brings out the common man in all of us. As the film progresses, you will feel how an idealistic, honest and hardworking individual becomes someone who is plagued by fear and panic. When he eventually stands up for his rights in an angst-ridden sequence, you’ll want to stand up and applaud the man.
The ensemble cast also includes the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell who plays a small-time attorney who fights alongside Jewell, as well as Kathy Bates who will move you to tears with her portrayal as Jewell’s selfless mother. Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde are effectively unlikeable as an unscrupulous FBI agent and an unethical journalist who are fingered as the ones responsible for casting aspersions on Jewell.
Based on Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell”, Eastwood’s 129-minute film adaptation is well-paced and will have viewers invested in Jewell’s trials and tribulations. The 89-year-old filmmaker is one of the most hardworking directors in showbiz, regularly delivering impressive films year after year. The themes explored in this film are not unfamiliar to Eastwood, who has made emotionally-charged movies like Gran Torino (2008), American Sniper (2014) and The 15:17 to Paris (2018). Through Jewell’s unfortunate experience, the film focuses on how class, power and injustice are played up in a society where the state and its media are inextricably linked.
While the film is not a cheery one to sit through, the story is told humanely and will move you. It is easy to feel for Jewell and the unfair treatment he had to go through. Although some elements of the film are dramatised, the fact that this is largely based on a real incident is unsettling. Our protagonist may have triumphed after an 88-day ordeal (he was ultimately cleared), but one sympathises with the the toll taken on his personal and professional life.
It becomes even more poignant when the end title card tells you that two years after the real bomber was convicted in 2005, Jewell died at the age of 44 due to complications from diabetes and heart failure. Whether this was a result from the trauma he went through is up for discussion, but it is definitely something you do not want to experience in your lifetime.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Clint Eastwood may be 89 years old, but he can still deliver a moving film about the injustices of the world.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8.5/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7.5/10