In 1996 I was 16 years old living in the city that was hosting the world for the Centennial Olympiad. This is the greatest sports spectacle the world sees only every four years. I was in the famed Centennial Park the night before the bombing took place. As much as the city was enamored with the games themselves, after the bombing the manhunt and subsequent trial by media of security guard Richard Jewell.
Clint Eastwood’s latest film looks at that fateful night and the FBI’s awful attempt to turn a hero into a villain. Richard Jewell was an awkward man who lived with his mother and desperately wanted to be a member of law enforcement. He took his desire a bit too seriously at times and tended to make those around him feel uncomfortable. Jewell soon landed a security job during the Olympic games at Centennial Park when one fateful night he noticed an unattended backpack and followed all the protocol despite those around him telling him he was being over ambitious.
On July 27, 1996 the bomb Jewell discovered detonated killing one woman and injuring 111 people. Had Jewell not done what he felt was best those numbers would have been drastically worse. For 3 days Jewell was a national hero and all over the media until a desperate FBI investigation team began looking at him as the suspect instead of the one man who did what was right. When ambitious reporter Kathy Scruggs discovers the FBI’s suspicions and writes a few scathing pieces in The Atlanta Journal Constitution the world soon sees an awkward man desperate for attention not the hero he actually was.
It took months of scrutiny and deep investigation until Jewell was exonerated by the FBI, but the damage had already been done to his reputation and all people saw was the man suspected of the bombing. Jewell died at 44 years old from complications of diabetes. Kathy Scruggs, the AJC journalist also had a tumultuous life and died very young from an addiction problem. The strange and troubling lives of these two may be the most fascinating part of the whole story but one that is only known because of one deranged man’s desire for chaos.
The film that Eastwood has made really gives you a palpable feel for the frustration of wrongfully accusing Jewell. It also shows a desperate law enforcement team looking to have a conviction regardless who it is all just to save face. It gives a man his due despite the fact it is more than 20 years overdue. The film shows that some good citizens do exist and sometimes people do the right thing simply because it is the right thing. Jewell did what he did because it was what was supposed to be done not for the notoriety that came with it.
The film is well done with very good acting by the entire cast which includes two Oscar winners and a Golden Globe winner. It may not rack up any awards and just a handful of nominations but it’s an intriguing film that will make you feel sorry for this man and bring sadness for a time when a city was on the world stage and was remembered for this tragedy and not what was one of the greatest Olympic Games ever.