Blessed by serendipitous synchronicity, Clint Eastwood’s movie, eponymously titled “Richard Jewell,” concerns the FBI mishandling of the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing and opened two days after the release of the Horowitz Report found 17 omissions or incorrect commissions in the Carter/Page application submitted by the FBI to the FISA Court. It is startling to see the same malfeasance brought to public attention in 1996, including a sexual relationship with an officer of the FBI, as well as other unlawful behavior in the bureau’s interrogations and investigations. Beyond that unusual coincidence, the movie is noteworthy for its restraint, particularly considering that its producer and director was Dirty Harry at the beginning of his career.
Compared with too many over-the top violent films (The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Richard Jewell deals with a 30-something security officer who lives with his mom (an excellent Kathy Bates), and tries his best to be helpful to others and live according to an out of fashion code of behavior. He is out of shape and out of style and lives a lonely life of social ostracism. After he discovers a fully loaded backpack left under a bench at the Olympic stadium, he succeeds in warning the police and negotiating a significant evacuation before the bombs explode, killing two people and injuring at least a hundred others. He is first hailed as a hero, and then considered a suspect according to the profile of a perpetrator who commits a crime in order to become a savior. Richard is played by Paul Walter Hauser in a tour de force of typecasting as well as acting.
Jewell is portrayed as a naive man unschooled in the ways of manipulation. One of the memorable and pivotal scenes occurs when Sam Rockwell, excellent as his defense lawyer, tries to teach him how to stop talking and be more circumspect when dealing with pit-bulls in the FBI. Jewell collapses in frustration when he admits that he is not the same person as Rockwell and only knows how to be himself. This is beyond moving in an age when selfies, facebook and instagrams allow anyone to adopt any false persona he chooses.
Beyond the similarity to our current political issues, this movie is successfully under-played and touches us directly without resorting either to histrionics or over the top special effects. Clint Eastwood has much to teach us about good people, compassion and doing the right thing.
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