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In Clint Eastwood’s latest project, he explores the famed story of Richard Jewell, the security guard celebrated as the life-saving hero of — and later accused of being the terrorist behind — the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Calling Jewell’s story “a great American tragedy,” the director told reporters at Richard Jewell‘s AFI Fest world premiere Wednesday that he wants to convey to audiences that “we shouldn’t jump to conclusions right away, and we should go back to the basics of innocent until proven guilty. That’s not happening in a lot of situations nowadays, it didn’t happen in his case definitely,” pointing out that the real-life Jewell died of a heart attack at age 44, and the stress of his time in the spotlight “probably didn’t help.”
The film takes a hard look at Jewell’s fall from grace, one day sitting down on the Today show and fielding book deals, and the next finding himself under FBI investigation for the bombing. The security guard is vilified by the press when he is found to be a suspect and accused of being responsible for the bombing by FBI agents who are looking to close the case. With its dark look at journalism and government, some viewers have interpreted a political message, which Paul Walter Hauser — who stars as Jewell — says people shouldn’t “get overly engulfed in.”
“The reality is this is a character-driven film where there is a victim, and victimization shouldn’t be a thing but it is, and it’s across the board — it’s not black or white, it’s not male or female, it can happen to anyone,” Hauser told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet. “What happened to Richard Jewell should be illuminated so people can see that history is going to repeat itself if we don’t take care of people in those situations.”
Hauser also addressed recent criticisms from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — the newspaper featured in the film, which employs brash reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde. In one scene, Wilde’s character tries to get information about the bombing investigation from FBI agent Tom Shaw (played by Jon Hamm), and offers sex in exchange for a scoop. The paper says there is no evidence that ever happened, and that this plotline defames the real-life Scruggs, who died in 2001.
“Any biopic film you watch, from Rudy to Foxcatcher, it’s all going to have artistic license and we’re making a film where you’re filling in gaps of information that you’ll never know unless you ask the person, and in our case both Kathy Scruggs and Richard Jewell have since passed, unfortunately,” the star said in response. “What I do think is redemptive is there is an arc for the Kathy Scruggs character, and we humanize these people even if we’re upset with them in the movie.”
Such a fan of Eastwood that he says he “would’ve worked craft services on a Clint Eastwood movie,” Hauser continued the celebration inside the screening at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater, where, despite the director getting a standing ovation, there was not enough applause for Hauser’s taste.
“I just want to say, it was not near loud enough when the dude who made Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby walked out,” he teased the crowd.
Before the screening, Eastwood spoke about the journey, revealing he almost made the film four years ago but “it didn’t happen because I was waiting for this cast.” The director also brought Jewell’s mother, Barbara “Bobi” Jewell, and his lawyer, G. Watson Bryant Jr., on stage with the team, hugging Bobi as he spoke.
Richard Jewell, which also stars Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell and Ian Gomez, hits theaters Dec. 13.
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