Richard Jewell Parent Guide
A compelling story with fine acting that deserves a better script.
Parent Movie Review
“I feel like I was meant for something better than this.” This assertion by lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) serves as a fitting summary for Richard Jewell, a real-life story that deserves something better than an unsatisfying movie sabotaged by lazy writing.
The film is based on the experiences of Richard Jewell (portrayed with bone-deep sincerity by Paul Walter Hauser), a wannabe cop who’s been fired from jobs as a deputy sheriff and college security officer. Jewell’s heartfelt desire to protect people is unfortunately combined with an officious personality, possible intellectual impairment, social awkwardness, poor judgment, and no sense of the limits of his authority. Luckily, the Olympics come to Atlanta in 1996 and Jewell gets hired as a security guard in what he believes is a second chance at a law enforcement career. When Jewell notices an unattended backpack, he becomes suspicious and calls in the police. The pipe bomb in the backpack explodes, but Jewell’s instincts have given the police time to move the crowd away from the bomb, saving hundreds of lives. Jewell is lauded as a hero, with media interviews and a book offer. And then the FBI gets suspicious…
This is the point at which the movie’s weaknesses become glaringly obvious. Jewell is a complex person, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes pitiable, sometimes aggravating. But his antagonists are one note characters. Agent Tom Shaw (a fictional character played by Jon Hamm) appears to be motivated solely by an inexplicable personal animosity against Jewell. And local reporter Kathy Scruggs (portrayed by Olivia Wilde) is so nakedly ambitious, so wantonly amoral that she feels like some kind of Disney cartoon villain. (In fact, the portrayal of the late Kathy Scruggs is so defamatory that the Atlanta Journal Constitution has threatened to sue Director Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers.) Even Jewell’s lawyer, Watson Bryant, is not presented with any subtlety. A bumper sticker in his office reads “I fear government more than I fear terrorism”, clearly telegraphing his anti-authoritarian, libertarian sensibilities. While comic films can succeed brilliantly by pitting complex characters against caricatures, this is the kiss of death for drama. It is impossible to have a deep, compelling conflict when the antagonists are cardboard cutouts; the result will always feel hollow.
Also disappointing are the content issues in Richard Jewell. Extensive swearing, including over two dozen sexual expletives, push the film outside the boundaries of family viewing. Add in a female character who seduces a cop for information and an exploding bomb, and this clearly isn’t a movie for kids or impressionable teens.
This movie’s weaknesses are particularly unfortunate because Richard Jewell should be a film that raises big questions about the ethics of media reporting and the limits on the power of law enforcement, particularly in the face of terrorism. And while the events of the movie took place in 1996, these issues have only grown more pressing in a post-9/11 world.
In a mirror to Bryant’s statement of personal entitlement, Jewell at one point says to his mother, “The world owes me better than this.” And the theater owes you something better than this in exchange for your hard-eared cash.Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, and Olivia Wilde. Running time: 129 minutes. Theatrical release December 13, 2019. Updated December 12, 2019
Watch the trailer for Richard Jewell
Rating & Content Info
Why is Richard Jewell rated R? Richard Jewell is rated R by the MPAA for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.
Violence: Two characters fire guns in an arcade game. A main character fires a weapon at a gun range. A man pushes against a younger man who falls to the ground. A bomb explodes; flames and flying nails are seen. People run and scream and wounded people are visible, with bloody wounds. A dead woman is shown with blood streaming down the sidewalk beneath her. The image of the bombing is seen again in flashbacks. There is mention of “frying” in context of the death penalty. A man gets angry and yells and hits a table. A man dreams about lying down on top of a bomb. A main character puts a number of firearms on his bed.
Sexual Content: A woman grabs her breasts through her shirt and makes a comment about her bra cup size. A woman asks a man if he wants to get a room or use her car; no further detail. A woman rubs her hand over a man’s thigh; they kiss one another. There is mention of homosexuality in the context of a criminal investigation; no detail. A woman uses a slang expression for an erection.
Profanity: There are over six dozen profanities in this film, almost half of which are sexual expletives. There are also frequent scatological curses, terms of deity, anatomical phrases, and mild swear words. A slang expression for sexual arousal is used. One of the sexual expletives in the film is used during a prayer, which some viewers will find offensive.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Secondary characters drink alcohol in a bar on a couple of occasions. Underage students drink alcohol in their dorm. A main character drinks beer.
Page last updated December 12, 2019
Richard Jewell Parents' Guide
How historically accurate is the movie? Find out here:
Vanity Fair: American nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell
Atlanta Magazine: Presumed Guilty
The actual Centennial Park bomber was finally arrested and convicted of the act of terrorism. For more information about Eric Robert Rudolph, read the link below.
Richard Jewell is rife with political subtexts. What ones did you notice? Did you agree with them? The New Yorker has suggested some political interpretations of the film in the link below. Do you agree with the writer’s perspective?
The New Yorker: The Unintentional Politics of Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the GBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen is a major source for the movie and provides a meticulous look at the events surrounding the Atlanta bombing.
Related home video titles:
Three American servicemen on holiday rely on their military training to save civilians in The 15:17 to Paris.
Another terror attack on American soil is portrayed in World Trade Center.
In The Sum of All Fears, a CIA agent races to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb in the USA.
Another innocent person is treated as a suspect for alerting the authorities to potential acts of terror in The Interpreter.