Richard Jewell: A meaningful biopic or political bias?

Richard shares an emotional moment with his mother as his attorney watches. (Warner Bros pic)

Older Malaysians may remember that during the 1996 Summer Olympics Games held in Atlanta, US, a bomb went off, killing one person and injuring many others.

The fatalities could have been far worse if not for the timely action of Richard Jewell, a security guard who discovered the bomb and acted quickly.

Initially hailed a hero by the press, he was subsequently investigated as a suspect for the bombing and ultimately cleared of all charges.

A story that is as interesting as it is thought-provoking,Jewell’s ordeal has finally been brought to the big screen by Clint Eastwood.

Starring big names like Jon Hamm, Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde, the cast’s performance has mostly been praised, though there have been criticisms on certain creative decisions.

Played by Hauser, the film centres on Jewell, a well-meaning but socially awkward man who dreams of joining law enforcement.

His character is unsurprisingly meant to be a sympathetic one and considering the tribulation he is put through after being hailed a hero, it makes sense to feel sorry for him.

Kathy Bates nominated for Best Supporting Actress

Hauser plays his role perfectly, a gentle giant trying to come to terms with how people treat him despite his innocence.

Supporting him is his beloved mother, Bates playing a character quite unlike her iconic role as Annie Wilkes in “Misery”.

The veteran actress puts in a brilliant performance as a loving parent, displaying genuine concern and fear for what is happening to her son.

The emotional speech she delivers towards the end explains why Bates was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes.

While these performances are praiseworthy, there is bias present likely due to Eastwood’s political leanings.

Substantial criticism has been directed at the film due to its portrayal of the main antagonist, a female journalist who sleeps with an FBI agent to get the inside scoop on the case.

Olivia Wilde plays Kathy Scruggs, the real-life reporter who wrote an article on the FBI’s investigation of Jewell as a potential suspect.

The film’s depiction of Kathy Scruggs earned criticism for its sexist undertones. (Warner Bros pic)

Despite the lack of evidence that she engaged in such activity, Eastwood paints both her and the FBI agent played by Hamm as villainous caricatures.

One scene has her confronted by Rockwell the attorney, where she behaves so over-the-top unrepentant that it’s hard to believe anyone could behave as such in real life.

Eastwood having Wilde sleep with Hamm to get the inside scoop is also highly questionable. It implies that female journalists are incapable of getting exclusive news without handing out sexual favours.

Given that Scruggs has been deceased since 2001, this depiction is in poor taste as she is unable to present her side of the story.

In an attempt to make Jewell a character the audience will root for, Eastwood appears to make the antagonists akin to a cardboard caricature.

For a story that wants to tell the tale of an innocent person being falsely accused, it’s ironic that a real and deceased person has her reputation slandered this way.

Ironic twist for a film meant to criticise the media for ruining reputations

It is no coincidence that the immoral characters in this story are a journalist and an FBI agent, given how a certain right-wing American leader rants about the media and the bureau on Twitter.

During the court room confrontation, Scruggs and lawyer Watson have an argument in which the former insists she reported the facts whereas Watson demands the “truth”.

In reality, what Scruggs did was simply report that Jewell was indeed under FBI investigation as the possible bombing suspect, which is technically true.

Facts often correlate to being the truth, and while Jewell’s ordeal was indeed an unpleasant one, Eastwood unfairly lampoons a real-life person who is incapable of defending herself.

This does jeopardise the value of the film somewhat, as in the process of portraying one real person positively, it purposefully denigrates another in a cheap, distasteful and sexist move.

There is something ironic in how a film meant to criticise the media for ruining a man’s reputation itself tarnishes the image of a deceased woman.

The film does have good acting from a star-studded cast, but an ultimately questionable message without being factually based may leave a sour taste in your mouth.