Before the devastating events of 911, a bomb went off during festivities associated with the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Richard Jewell was lauded as the hero who saved many of thoselives by alerting officials. Yet, three days later he found himself as the FBI’s lead suspect. Jewell, by all accounts, was a simple, honest, hard-working man whose dream was to be in law enforcement. The same law enforcement that dragged his name and his reputation, disrupted his life and the life of his beloved mother to the point of no return. This is a story of when you ignore the facts for the sake of reporting first. A culture that is all too prevalent today online and on network television.
Clint Eastwood has brought this story to the forefront with a spot on performance from Paul Walter Hauser in the title role. Not only does Hauser look eerily close to the now deceased Jewell, but his unique quality of appearing one crayon short of a box laced with vulnerability and heart serves him well. Kathy Bates as Richard’s Mom Bobi will break your heart. She exemplifies the unconditional love a mother has for her children no matter what. But, what strikes you at the core is watching this Mom stand on the sidelines while her son is not only vilified by the media, but by the President of the United States.
Jon Hamm as FBI agent Tom Shaw is ruthlessly captivating. We often associate confession coercion with people of color, but this film illustrates that law enforcement’s behavior is a tactic trotted out for citizens who don’t have free flowing funds to protect them against the very same lawmakers that are supposed to have their backs.
Of course, this film doesn’t drop without controversy. In the last few days, news reports have surfaced that facts are slightly skewed regarding this case and the actions of AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) reporter Kathy Scruggs who initially broke the story in 1996. As reported by CNN, “The paper claims that Warner Bros. and the movie’s producers took dramatic license and portrayed Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), as having traded sex for information from a FBI source, and having done so due to being exploited by the newspaper — accusations the paper denies and has called “extremely defamatory.”
In a series of tweets, Olivia Wilde responded, “…I was asked to play the supporting role of Kathy Scruggs, who was, by all accounts, bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred by the challenge of being a female reporter in the South in the 1990s. I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty. As a child of journalists myself, I have deep respect for the essential work of all in their field, particularly today when the media is routinely attacked and discredited, and regional papers like the AJC are disappearing on a daily basis. Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy “traded sex for tips”. Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did.”
Which leads us back to the question of when does speculation become fact? It’s like dropping a piece of bread at a picnic and watching ants swarm fighting over a single bite. Richard Jewell and Kathy Scruggs are no longer here to speak for themselves, but the facts will continue to speak on their behalf.
Produced by Warner Brothers and Directed by Clint Eastwood, Richard Jewell drops today on December 13th. Judge the facts for yourself.