DRAMA; 2hr 9min
STARRING: Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde
Hard time: from left, Rockwell, Bates and Hauser
Even while pushing an office-supplies cart in 1986, Richard Jewell (Hauser, a ringer for his thorny real-life subject) yearns for a future in law enforcement. Easier said, despite his best intentions: ten years later, as a too-committed college-campus security guard, the 33-year-old control freak is fired, leaving him with the relatively lame option of working security at the Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Two other Games attendees who believe they’re destined for better things are superior FBI agent Tom Shaw (Hamm) and pushy newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Wilde). They’re not exactly easy to like, but then again, at the outset, neither is Richard. Overweight and officious, he lives at home with his doting mother (Bates as Bobi) and rubs up practically everyone else the wrong way.
That might have been the end of it for Richard, career-wise, if he hadn’t discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs beneath a bench at the Games venue. The bombs explode, killing two people and injuring more than 100, but due to Richard’s prescient warning, the damage is curtailed and he’s an instant media hero. And of course, what goes up…
Working with his usual unhurried sense of purpose, director Clint Eastwood paces out an opening act that positions the main players for subsequent cutting truths. (Rockwell also weighs in as Richard’s laconic lawyer, Watson Bryant.) As the man of the moment, a self-effacing Richard basks in the prestige of glowing TV coverage and a possible book deal. But when his spotty past comes back to bite him, the FBI tags him as a “false hero” who may have planted the bomb for the glory of discovery.
To be the focus of a media witch-hunt is to be vilified in the frenzy of a gun-jumping judgment that presupposes guilt on the basis of appearance and circumstance. Richard’s only crime is being who he is, and because the heat of that personal hell is so self-evident, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (working from a 1997 Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner) allow the facts as presented to speak for themselves. A nonplussed Hauser and a stricken Bates carry the lion’s share of that emotive load, walking steadily through the wreckage of Richard’s undoing with the weight of respect routinely denied those who most urgently deserve it.