Rush to judgment of an innocent security guard

Rush to judgment of an innocent security guard Kathy Bates, Paul Walter Hauser and Sam Rockwell, in Richard Jewell. Photo: Claire Folger/AP/TheGuardian


You’ve got to hand it to Clint Eastwood – at 89 years old, he’s still churning out great films.

I’d never heard of Richard Jewell before seeing this. In July 1996, the overweight security guard noticed a suspicious-looking knapsack under a bench at Atlanta’s Olympic Games. It turned out to contain a bomb.

Jewell  (Paul Walter Hau-ser) was instrumental in dispersing the crowd before it exploded. Two people were killed. Over 100 were injured. It could have been much worse. He was lauded in the aftermath of the event but the FBI’s frustration in failing to catch the person who planted the bomb resulted in Jewell himself becoming a suspect.

The horrendous treatment he received at the hands of both the FBI and the media on absolutely no evidence is the stuff of this fascinating film. It manages to inject occasional humour into the proceedings and still deliver a corrosive indictment of how the investigation was (mis)managed.

Not since the Faye Dunaway of Network have I seen a more voracious reporter than Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). She breaks the news of Jewell being a suspect. It’s leaked to her by the equally venal Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), an FBI agent who does everything in his power to blacken his reputation. In the process he destroys both his life and that of his distraught mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates).

Though Jewell was eventually vindicated, and the real culprit caught, he died at 44. The stress of the investigation had to have been a factor in this.

One thinks of Fatty Arbuckle, an equally overweight star of early Hollywood who was arrested for  raping a woman at a party in 1921. There were two hung juries before he was finally acquitted but he died at 46 as a result of the negative publicity. It killed his career and broke his heart.


This is a must-see film with a wonderful performance by Hauser. His Forrest Gump-style laidbackness occasionally explodes into righteous anger at his victimisation.

Sam Rockwell can always be relied on to deliver a quality performance. He does so again here as a whimsical lawyer. He does his best to make Jewell realise how easy it is to implicate himself in the crime he’s charged with unless he learns to box as clever as the FBI agents dogging his footsteps and trying to get him to trip himself up.

Eastwood once again puts his laser eye on a hot button theme.

Here in Ireland it will serve to remind us of similar miscarriages of justice in our own past – The Guildford Four, The Birmingham Six, etc. – as a man with virtually nothing to hide is turned into a pariah when a firestorm breaks out around him.

He goes from hero to villain and back to hero again. Eastwood gives us a dignified finale to a thoroughly undignified period in America’s history.

See it and then read the book, The Suspect. It’s equally engrossing.