Clint Eastwood is angry about what happened to Richard Jewell, a security guard whose bravery possibly saved hundreds of lives during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Jewell noticed an abandoned backpack in Centennial Olympic Park and then cleared the area before a bomb went off. One person was killed in the eventual explosion and more than 100 were injured.
Jewell was initially hailed as the hero he was before FBI profilers decided he was weird and might have planted the bomb so he could take credit for finding it. They leaked their suspicions to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter whose story set off a media firestorm. The hero was now the villain.
After a few weeks of hell, Jewell was cleared. Army veteran Eric Rudolph was finally identified as a suspect in 1998 and arrested in 2003. Rudolph, now serving a life sentence for a series of terror bombings, confessed to the Olympic bombings in 2005.
Eastwood wants everyone to know the truth and made a movie called "Richard Jewell." The first trailer is out now and the movie is due in theaters on December 13.
In the trailer, a pair of FBI agents (played by an appropriately sleazy Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez) demand that Jewell read back the words used by the bomber when he made a warning call to 911. They keep urging him to read it back with more intensity and the trailer cuts to scenes of Jewell finding the bomb and Hamm, in a bit of twisted FBI logic, declaring him a suspect because he was the guy who found the bomb.
You get the AJC’s contempt for the country boy hero and his mom’s anguish when her baby gets accused of the horrible crime. Eastwood, a notoriously no-nonsense filmmaker, seems to have taken extra care to recreate the park from photos and video footage taken in 1996.
As the pressure increases, we get the sense that Jewell will finally fight back and that’s the movie Clint wants us to see.
Jewell eventually sued a host of media including NBC, CNN and the Atlanta newspaper. Most settled, but the AJC has never admitted that their coverage had flaws. Jewell may have gotten some cash, but he never really recovered from the trauma and died in 2007.
Paul Walter Hauser, so good in both "I, Tonya" and "BlackKklansman," seems to have brought Jewell back to life with this performance. Sam Rockwell plays Richard's attorney Watson Bryant, Olivia Wilde plays AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs and Kathy Bates plays Jewell's mom Bobi.
Things were different back in the 1990s. Profilers were getting a lot more credit in law enforcement and the media than they probably deserved, the FBI was looking for a big win after the embarrassments of Ruby Ridge and Waco and an arrogant local print media had no idea of the financial reckoning that was just around the corner. They had an international story, maybe one that didn't make the city look good, but they were going to blow it up no matter what the fallout.
Scruggs won't be able to object to her portrayal in Eastwood's movie. Her health declined as she faced a massive lawsuit from Jewell and she died in early September 2001, just days before the 9/11 attacks.
The locals in Georgia still defend their dubious stories about Jewell. Eastwood's movie will be their biggest challenge yet.