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Movie Review – Richard Jewell (2019)

3.5 readers, as all 3.5 of you are aware, I am the world’s foremost ugly rights advocate, championing the rights of the aesthetically challenged all the time on this fine blog that is only read by 3.5 people.  We’re here.  We’re ugly.  Get used to it.  We will not be prisoners under the paper bags that society wants to put over our faces for a minute longer.

Thus, as you can imagine, when I watched this movie, there was, as an aesthetically challenged man myself, a special place in my heart for one Mr. Richard Jewell.

For those too young to know or so old they forgot – a brief recap.  The year was 1996.  Hillary Clinton was president for the first time, running the country on a de facto basis while her president husband was busy chasing interns around the resolute desk with his pants around his ankles.

The Macarena was all the rage and the Summer Olympics were in full swing in Atlanta.  Richard Jewell, a security guard at the event, spotted a suspicious backpack, warned everyone he could and saved a lot of lives that day, for as it turned out, the backpack indeed had a live bomb inside.

Now, as an ugly rights advocate, let me lay out the ugly truth for you, America.  Had Richard Jewell been a handsome man, that would have been the end of it.  The FBI would have put their focus on where it should have been in the first place – the hunt for the actual bomber, who sadly, evaded capture for another six years.

Alas, poor Richard was a fat guy who lived with his mother and in the eyes of the Feds and the media and the public at large, that was enough to convict him.  A speculative narrative followed, namely, that Richard was a “false hero” i.e. he craved attention and praise, so he planted the bomb so that he could find it and be hailed as a hero, getting the respect and admiration he so long craved but was denied by society.

Unfortunately, Richard wasn’t a perfect man.  Few of us are.  He had a spotty record with some red flags.  He’d previously worked as a college campus cop, but had been fired for being overly zealous in catching students boozing it up.  He’d been fired from another job in law enforcement too.

On top of that, he was a gun enthusiast, having collected enough gats in his room to repel a zombie invasion.

All of this weird?  Yes.  But does that make him a monster?  No.

This is a movie that, quite frankly, couldn’t have gotten made if Clint Eastwood hadn’t been behind it.  It’s a film where the chubby guy (Paul Walter Hauser) is the underdog hero and the handsome guy (Jon Hamm as FBI agent Tom Shaw) and hot babe (Olivia Wilde as the late Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs) are portrayed as villains.  In the standard Hollywood formula of pretty = good and ugly = bad, this picture would not normally fly.

Is it a product of today’s era?  Sure.  Our current POTUS lives to call out Fake News and Clint is one of the last few working conservatives in Tinsel Town.  Ultimately, this is a tale of how Feds and the media, in a rush to be first, ignored their duty to be right.

The sad crux of the film is Richard had a life.  It may not have been a glamorous one, but it was one and it was his and he lived it the best he could, getting up everyday and working and earning a living despite the limitations that God had given him.  He was fat, and not well spoken, and did yearn to be taken seriously in a world that dumps on people who look like him.

But on the other hand, his fat guy powers saved the day that day.  Spoiler alert – his enthusiasm for fast food leads to him getting the runs and on his way back from an emergency bathroom break, spots the bag.  Frankly, a more physically fit flatfoot may have never spotted it.

And ironically, the overzealous “I’m super cop” mentality that got him fired from previous gigs saved lives here, as Richard pushes other officers on the scene to take the bag seriously even when they all just assume it must have just belonged to some tourist who left it behind on accident.

Anyway, I won’t drone on.  Hauser plays the role well while Sam Rockwell nails the part of Watson Bryant, a not-so-hot lawyer who isn’t really prepared to take on a case of such magnitude, yet pushes himself to do so because he’s the only friend Richard’s got.  Bryant’s work is cut out for him because Richard yearns for law enforcement approval and initially (naively) sees Jon Hamm’s character as a friendly colleague rather than a bureaucratic hack looking to nail a scalp on his wall.

If I have one criticism, it’s that the movie might have been a little hard on Kathy Scruggs.  I’ll admit, I’m not up on the history here, but she’s portrayed as a slutty Wicked Witch of the West who bangs the information that Jewell is a suspect out of Shaw.

Should the FBI have kept a tight lid on the fact that they were investigating Jewell so as to not ruin his life?  Yes.  Should the media have waited to report on Jewell until or unless he was charged with something?  IMO, that’s a harder call.  The fact that he was investigated was news, and it was more of the FBI’s job to keep the info under wraps.  On the other hand, the media didn’t need to camp out front of the guy’s apartment for three months either.

Ultimately, if there was no evidence that Scruggs and Shaw were banging, then that allegation shouldn’t have been made in a movie that calls upon the Feds and the media to get their facts right when any man, even a man who doesn’t fit the traditional hero mold’s life is at stake.

Overall, great movie and shocking look at some of the tactics that were used against Jewell, including a bizarre attempt to trick him into confessing to things he didn’t do by telling him he was participating in a training film instead of a taped interrogation.  Sad to say it happened in America.

Also great appearance by Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother, Bobi, who suffers through the FBI confiscating all of her wares, from her underwear to her tupperware.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  FYI, domestic terrorist was pinched as the actual bomber in 2003, which finally brought speculation that Richard was the bomber to a close.  The film might have delved into that a bit more.  The film ends as the investigation concludes, but articles I have read indicate that Richard still suffered innuendo that maybe he did it and just got away with it until Rudolph was finally caught.  One wonders if all this stress contributed to an early death for Richard, who passed on from heart failure when he was 44.  Though he was overweight, I’ve seen fatter people live longer so…it couldn’t have been good for the poor guy’s health.

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