Richard Jewell tells the true story of a security guard, hailed a hero for spotting a suspicious package at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, before going on to be accused of masterminding the whole thing and having his life turned upside down by the media and the FBI. Directed by Clint Eastwood, Richard Jewell is another one of those stories from recent history that I knew very few details about, other than there was a bombing at the Olympics, and it’s a story that clearly deserves to be told.
We start by getting to know a bit about Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) and how he eventually found himself working security at such a high profile event. When we first meet Richard, he’s working as a supply clerk for a public law firm in 1986. He meets attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who can be heard from across the other side of the office loudly and angrily shouting at somebody on the phone. He’s not much friendlier to Richard when he puts the phone down either, discovering that Richard has very kindly replaced some stationery in his desk drawers, and even added some more Snickers bars in there after noticing empty wrappers in Watson’s bin. But the pair do eventually build up a good rapport, even sharing an interest in playing video games at a local arcade during their lunch breaks.
Richard eventually leaves the firm to become a security guard at a college. With dreams of some day working his way up into law enforcement, Richard takes his role a bit too seriously, resulting in a number of complaints being made to the dean and his subsequent dismissal. Having moved in with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates) in Atlanta, Richard lands a job working security at the Olympic games, working alongside police officers in Centennial Park during a number of events. His mother joins him to enjoy a Kenny Rogers concert one night, and then a few nights later Richard gets to work while his favourite group are playing. It’s during that time, while trying to move on a group of drunk and rowdy boys, that Richard notices a suspicious backpack beneath a nearby bench. Police are alerted, and the backpack is determined to be carrying a bomb. As Richard and the police officers try to disperse the crowd, the bomb detonates and casualties are much lower than they could have been. Richard is hailed a hero.
As Richard quickly begins appearing on TV, and being offered book deals, the FBI begin their investigation. Agent Shaw (Jon Hamm) was there when the bomb went off and feels responsible for something that happened on his watch, so is determined to find the man responsible. It’s not long before they decide that Richard fits the profile of previous bombers – a wannabe police officer who carries out attacks and then seeks fame and glory by helping out his victims. The situation isn’t helped when ballsy reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who will go to any lengths to get her story, including sleeping around, publishes a front page story declaring Richard to be prime suspect with the FBI. From there, Richard’s life, along with his mothers, is sent into turmoil and Richard is forced to contact old friend Watson Bryant to see if he’ll help defend him as his lawyer.
The dynamic between Richard and Watson is what really made this movie for me. They’re old friends, but clearly two very different people – Watson doesn’t take any crap from anyone while Richard is a kindly, thoughtful man who just wants to help everyone, so ends up not doing himself any favours. On one occasion, Watson tells Richard not to say a word while the FBI are searching his home, and then Richard proceeds to talk to them all about anything and everything, blissfully ignorant of the glares he’s receiving from Watson. There’s a lot of humour in Richard Jewell, which I wasn’t really expecting, and while it did make for an enjoyable movie, I felt it detracted a little from the drama and tension at times. Outside of that, both Jon Hamm and Kathy Bates were perfect in their roles, Kathy Bates this week receiving an Oscar nomination for her performance.
As the movie progresses, the injustice of it all is truly incredible. Just by Watson walking the route from the phone-booth where the warning call originated and the location where Richard was when the bomb went off, it was clear that he couldn’t have done it. He even passed a polygraph test and yet he still continued to be hounded in the absence of any other leads or suspects, as he was just an easy target. It’s an enjoyable watch, and certainly an important story, but because of the humour I described earlier, it just didn’t have enough intensity or drama to make a bigger impact on me.
Richard Jewell hits UK cinemas January 31