A Jewell from Clint Eastwood
Southern males of pale complexion are doubtless the most vilified group in American popular culture. That particularly applies when the southerner is a rather dim, overweight gun nut who aspires to be a police officer. Georgian Richard Jewell, 33, was all that and more, but he was not the person who planted the bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. As director Clint Eastwood shows in Richard Jewell, the film’s namesake was the one who spotted the deadly backpack, called in the bomb squad, and helped move people out of danger. The FBI thought Jewell was their man, based on some “profile” they have cooked up about southern males of pale pigmentation.
In the film, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) gets an FBI agent to leak the story in exchange for sex. In real life, however, the newspaper contends that Scruggs, who died in 2001, never did such a thing, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone holds it against a script that “otherwise hews close to the proven facts of the case.” According to those facts, Scruggs was the first to write that the FBI was targeting Jewell. Warner Brothers has declined to post a disclaimer about the film and will defend Richard Jewell against the paper’s threatened lawsuit.
In the Eastwood production, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) hurts his own case by trying to be helpful. For his lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), Jewell is hard to like, but as the FBI tries to frame the security guard, Hauser’s performance gets the audience on his side. As Richard’s mother, Bobi Jewell, Kathy Bates makes viewers forget everything she did to James Caan in Misery. Bobi knows her boy is innocent, but the film’s key line comes from Bryant’s assistant Nadya (Nina Arianda). In her country, Nadya explains, when the government says someone is guilty, everybody knows they are innocent.
In 1991, Silence of the Lambs showed FBI agents as selfless, intrepid heroes dedicated to truth and justice. In 2019, Richard Jewell reveals FBI agents as bureaucrats with guns, intoxicated with power and status, and with little concern for the truth. That does seem to pack a degree of verisimilitude. As recent events confirm, the presumption of innocence is under fierce attack, and the United States is becoming more like the country Nadya described.
Richard Jewell was produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, now 89 years old. Viewers can be thankful Clint Eastwood is still making movies, and that he did not opt for a career in politics.