Richard Jewell seems somewhat problematic. He’s power hungry, he’s got no regard for jurisdictional limits, and he thinks he’s a cop when he’s really just campus security. So when he finds a suspicious package under a park bench during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, you can see why the FBI might consider him a suspect. But that only goes so far, and doesn’t explain why the FBI viewed him as the ONLY suspect, or why they leaked his name to the press, or why they tried to coerce a confession from him through a fake training video. It’s malicious prosecution at its finest, aimed at a guy who was only guilty of being in the right place at the right time.
Richard Jewell also seems like he deserved to be a hero for a little bit longer. He saved lives by finding that suspicious package and getting the bomb squad involved. At first, he got the hero treatment, but within days, he was named as the prime suspect, and then his hero days were done. All he was after that point was the creepy guy who might have done it. The FBI wouldn’t be investigating him otherwise, would they? Turns out that yes, actually, they would, because they had no one else to pin this on.
Richard Jewell is profiling gone wrong. Clearly, the American justice system is really shitty to anyone who fits a profile. This case was one where a white man was being profiled, so it became a movie. Just imagine how many minorities have been, and are currently being, similarly pursued because they fit a profile, or were “close enough” to the profile for the FBI to squeeze them into that box.
Clint Eastwood is still looking for American heroes, and Richard Jewell clearly fits Eastwood’s profile. It’s a less dangerous profile than any in use by the FBI as long Eastwood doesn’t ask the heroes to play themselves. Eastwood’s retelling of Jewell’s story ignores any shades of grey, preferring to cast the FBI agents (played by Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez) and the media (led by Olivia Wilde) as corrupt and callous, and Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), his mom (Kathy Bates) and his lawyer (Sam Rockwell) as decent and caring.
As a film, Richard Jewell works well enough (Bates and Rockwell are great as always, and the rest of the cast is solid) but it feels like a missed opportunity. The story isn’t that one poor guy got targeted one time. It’s that the system encourages and rewards this type of police work and this type of media coverage, where getting it right doesn’t matter half as much as finding someone, anyone, to blame.