There really has never been a time when there weren’t two sides to a story. Today our ideas of what is true is often driven by people telling us what we should believe as the truth. In 1996 a bomb went off at the Olympics and the way the story was covered seem to set the table for how every news story since would be covered. Speculation replaces facts and trial-by-media found a new meaning as judgement is handed out by the minute in a 24-hour news cycle. This is a story about what happened inside that storm and the lives that were changed forever by it.
Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) has one goal in life and that is to become a member of law enforcement. While he has attributes that will help him in the pursuit of his dream he also has some that might hurt his chances. After a failed attempt as a county sheriff, Richard has bounced around as a security officer, most recently at a college, but when he fails at that, opportunity comes knocking in the form of the Olympics. You see the ’96 games are coming to Atlanta and there will be a high need for security. While working one night Richard finds a suspicious bag that turns out to be a bomb and when it explodes, his life changes forever. While at first he is the hero who saved hundreds of lives, soon the F.B.I lead by Agent Shaw (John Hamm) are turning their sights on Richard not as the hero, but as the villain. Richard and the world don’t know this though, but that changes when Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who is a reporter, gets a tip that begins the trial of Richard Jewell in the court of public opinion. Now faced with the threat of being charged for something he said he didn’t do, Richard reaches out to Watson Bryant ( Sam Rockwell) who agrees to defend him and try and make his life normal again.
Watching the events as they are told often feels like Richard Jewell is putting on trial the way we rush to judgement on the things we think are right and wrong. With the gift of hindsight watching the events unfold and knowing the outcome has some cringe worthy moments that may make you want to scream “No!” at the screen. The message that writer Billy Ray and Director Clint Eastwood are trying to get across sometimes feels like it is being delivered a bit heavy handed, but not enough to make you feel like you are being talked down to. Where things do go wrong in the worst way is how Wilde’s character is portrayed as not a reporter working hard to get her story, but as a floozie who uses her body to get the big break in the case. This is not a character choice, but feels like more of a slight to a real woman that many have said was not like that. It really feels like Eastwood wants to deliver a message even though all the hard things to watch are balanced out with lighter moments, there is little doubt to what conclusion he wants you to come to. Even with the faults in the story the cast pulls it through, especially Rockwell and Kathy Bates who are just scene-stealers by nature, even with the bad hand Wilde was given with her character this is a story that feels as relevant today as it did when it happened and worth your time, because Richard Jewell deserves better than what he got.