Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Big Black Eye for the FBI -- Richard Jewell Is A "Must See"

Paul Walter Hauser and Sam Rockwell with director Clint Eastwood. 
This Clint Eastwood film is an absolute powerhouse. Eastwood has a history of creating compelling stories and in recent years some especially important ones. With Richard Jewell he's done it again.

The screenwriting was superb. In the first six minutes we have a series of scenes that show us who Richard Jewell was, revealing facets of his character and introducing us to the film's key players in a non-forced manner. Jewell was a good-hearted, but quirky, young man who wanted to do good, but who didn't have a clean sense of boundaries in that regard.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a bomb that exploded in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Jewell, a security guard at the event, found the backpack containing three large pipe bombs packed with nails and immediately reported it to authorities who called in the bomb squad. Though he did everything in his power to clear the area so that people would be safe, the bomb exploded before it could be defused. Despite his efforts, there were one or two killed and more than a hundred casualties. (Had he not been there it would have certainly done far more damage.)

Sam Rockwell, the other hero.
The media immediately recognized him as a hero, but the FBI placed him on a suspect list, perhaps because they had no other suspects. Instead of using all their powers to find the guilty, they used deceit and every kind of devious means to crucify this innocent man who had no motivation other than to do what was right.

Another real hero in this film is the attorney who stepped in and did everything within his power to protect a vulnerable man.

The real villains? Mainstream media and the irresponsible actions of the FBI.

In addition to an amazing story we see top-notch acting, and superb story-telling in this film. The tension is palpable as we watch the insidious actions of our lawmen trampling Jewell's rights, using bugging equipment and people wearing recording devices to get Jewell to admit he did it. It was literally unbelievable how far they were willing to go.

Jewell made one especially good move. When the FBI set him up and pretended to be making a movie of him as a hero, they gave him a clipboard and asked him to sign a document, on film, of him confessing to the crime. Richard Jewell knew right then he needed to call a lawyer. If he'd not made that call he probably would have received the death penalty and this film would never have been made. Instead he got his life back.

Do you have an attorney whom you could call were you suddenly accused of a crime you didn't commit? That was my own first thought upon watching this film.

Naturally the line from Dylan's "Hurricane" jumps to mind. "It makes you feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game."

Afterwards I looked through the movie reviews at imdb.com and thought these noteworthy.

Excellent portrayal of the sleaziness of law enforcement
I have experience dealing with the Feds and found this movie incredibly compelling. So much about this movie hit home for me. Just a few examples, when the Feds came to talk to Jewell and tried to make him sign shady documents, bugging his home, the slick self-righteous agent who thinks he decides who is right and wrong, cleaning out his home supposedly looking for evidence, wasting time on easy, harmless suspects instead of finding the real criminals to boost their career. It's sad. All that time spent looking at Richard Jewell as a suspect while the real terrorist got away. They knew he was innocent, all they had to do was actually do some actual investigative, science-based investigative work instead of using confirmation bias.

Watch a man get mauled by overzealous FBI and frantic media
Jewell becomes a "person of interest" and the frantic media jump on the story. It is frankly incredibly frightening when you put it all into context and see how a man's life gets mauled. Per the usual, Eastwood does a great job to keep the movie going forward. The all- star ensemble cast is incredible: Paul Walter Hauser IS Richard Jewell, and Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde are equally outstanding. This movie was filmed in the Spring of this year, and now barely 6 months later, it is already in theaters.

Clint Eastwood, now 89 going on 90, called security guard Richard Jewell's story "a great American tragedy," and said it's a story he's been trying to tell for five years. I, for one, was gratified to have seen him finish what he started.

Rockwell, Bates and Hauser were pitch perfect.
There was a special moment in the film in which Kenny Rogers was performing the evening before the bomb blast. Rogers just passed away earlier this spring, so he very likely had a chance to see this film when it was released last year. He may even have received some royalties from the song's inclusion in the film. "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

The media bloodhounds did not fare well in this film. Shrill, intrusive, careless. Not too unlike today, actually.

Richard Jewell was played by Paul Walter Hauser, a relatively unknown whom you may recall from the film I, Tonya, about another Olympics-related crime. Mad Men's Dan Draper was the lead FBI agent whose odious behavior really makes your gut churn. Kathy Bates as Richard's mother is likewise stellar as she sees the cruel way her son is maligned by the press and can't comprehend how this could be happening. And Sam Rockwell was pitch perfect as Watson Bryant, the attorney who rescued Richard from a fate worse than death, the permanent public indignity of being branded a terrorist bomber.

When it was over, another Eastwood film with a similar theme came to mind about a hero who gets treated like a criminal, the film Sully, starring Tom Hanks. Films like these and others--like Just Mercy, The Oxbow Incident, 12 Angry Men--show how Hollywood can serve a redemptive role in society. Who is stepping up to be the next Clint Eastwood with the courage and commitment to shed light on these kinds of stories?

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Related Links
A Kenny Rogers Memory
A Photo Gallery from the film
Richard Jewell, the man and the aftermath

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