Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell tells the true story of the titular Atlanta security guard who became a prime suspect in the bombing at the 1996 Olympics before ultimately being cleared by law enforcement.
When Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) discovered a backpack containing pipe bombs, he heroically sounded the alarm and cleared the area. The bomb later detonated, killing one person and injuring dozens of others. He was initially praised as a hero, but the FBI later identified him as one of the many suspects, which led the public to vilify Jewell, who was ultimately cleared by law enforcement.
The film is based off of the 1997 Vanity Fair article that chronicled the events of the bombing and Jewell's vilification.
Richard Jewell has generated controversy for its portrayal of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who was the first journalist to state that Jewell was a suspect. In the film, Wilde's Scruggs offers to trade sex for the name of the suspect with an FBI agent.
Kevin Riley, the paper's current editor in chief, said there is no evidence that this transaction ever happened. "There has never been any evidence that this is how Kathy got the story," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "This came out of the blue."
The Atlanta newspaper formally complained about Wilde's portrayal of Scruggs in a story published Dec. 9.
"The AJC’s reporter is reduced to a sex-trading object in the film," said a letter written on behalf of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cox Enterprises. "Such a portrayal makes it appear that the AJC sexually exploited its staff and/or that it facilitated or condoned offering sexual gratification to sources in exchange for stories. That is entirely false and malicious, and it is extremely defamatory and damaging."
"I have an immense amount of respect for Kathy Scruggs," Wilde told THR in defense of her portrayal. "She’s no longer with us, she died very young, and I feel a certain responsibility to defend her legacy — which has now been, I think unfairly, boiled down to one element of her personality, one inferred moment in the film."
Wilde later tweeted that her comments "were lost in translation" and added, "I do not believe sex-positivity and professionalism are mutually exclusive. Kathy Scruggs was a modern, independent woman whose personal life should not detract from her accomplishments."
Warner Bros. responded to the backlash by stating, "It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast."
During its opening weekend, the film earned an estimated $4.7 million in a near-career worst showing for Eastwood. The prolific director's only movie to have opened lower was Bronco Billy ($3.7 million) nearly 40 years ago.
Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez star in the film as FBI agents investigating Jewell, though their characters are not based on real people.
Read on to see how Hauser, Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates prepared to play their real-life roles.