Richard Jewell loved movies, especially anything with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Living with her mother, Bobi, in her Atlanta apartment, Jewell, who worked as a security guard, sometimes told her when there was a movie he thought she would like them to watch together.
"His schedule was dubious – he went out at night most of the time – but if there was a good one, he would let me know and we would watch," Bobi Jewell recalls over the Atlanta telephone early. December morning. She pauses. “He loved his loud music, and the people in the apartment above were old and used to hit the wall. But other than that, he was a good boy.
At that time, Bobi Jewell could never imagine that Eastwood would ever direct a movie about his son: the drama "Richard Jewell", which is now in theaters. She could never imagine that she would bake her famous pound cake for one of Richard's greatest heroes and walk the red carpet in a brilliant debut with Eastwood, holding his hand. But again, before that terrible summer of 1996, she could never imagine that there would be a story to tell.
On July 27, 1996, a week at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, Richard Jewell was safely working on an evening show in the city's Centennial Park when he noticed a suspicious backpack under a bench and alerted police. A bomb squad was called in, and while Jewell and other security and law enforcement officers worked to evacuate people in the area, he detonated an explosive device in his backpack. One person was killed and 111 injured – a count of casualties that would surely have been much higher if Jewell had not discovered the bomb and helped bring concertgoers to safety.
Initially, Jewell was hailed as a hero. But just three days later, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the FBI was treating him as a possible suspect, on the theory that the security guard, disappointed with a career he had not done as he had hoped, could have happened. . planted the bomb so that he could "discover" it and be celebrated for saving lives. For the next three months, Jewell and his mother became virtual prisoners in Bobi's apartment while the FBI kept him under constant surveillance and the media described him as the alleged culprit.
Even after his name was erased with the help of a lawyer named Watson Bryant – even after domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to the Centennial Park bombing and three other attacks in 2005 – the ordeal hung over Jewell until his death in 2007. at 44 years of heart failure from diabetes complications. It still haunts your mother to this day.
Bobi Jewell says he is grateful that Eastwood made this ordeal the subject of his latest movie – with Paul Walter Hauser as Richard, Kathy Bates as Bobi and Sam Rockwell as Bryant – and that those who may have only vague memories, if any, the bombing and its consequences will know that his son really was a hero. "That's what I want people to know instead of what we had to face," she says, her voice breaking. “I just want the world to know what can happen to an old lady. I was in my early 60s when it happened and now I'm 83. So life goes on.
Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant, left, Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell, and Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell in a "Richard Jewell" scene.
(Claire Folger / Warner Bros Pictures)
Their ties forged in this media and legal storm, Bryant and the Jewells remained close; for a while Bobi even babysits the lawyer's two children. Bryant hopes that "Richard Jewell" will finally erase any doubts about Jewell's role in the bombing.
"Look, to this day I meet people and when you say Richard Jewell, they say," Oh, he was the guy who left, "says Bryant, who is still outraged at how Jewell's reputation is. has been stained. “These bums (at the FBI) never had enough to arrest him – they had nothing but a bunch of BS out of context that used to frame him in a story that was too good to be true. To this day, people think he had something ugly with the bombing – when he's the guy who, if not for him, would be raining body parts when the bomb exploded. I can't imagine how many people are alive today and how many children were born just because Richard did his job. "
When first approached about starring "Richard Jewell", Rockwell and Bates were unfamiliar with the story of the Centennial Park bombing, which neither had closely followed at the time. "I remember Muhammad Ali with the torch (at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics) and crying like a baby," says Rockwell. But after meeting Bryant and Bobi Jewell, they quickly understood how deeply they and Richard had been affected by these three months and the years of litigation and other aftershocks that followed. (NBC News and the New York Post finally settled Jewell's lawsuits.)
"I met Bobi when I was shooting in Atlanta and we spent a few hours together," says Bates, who won a Golden Globe nomination for supporting the actress for her performance. “Even after all these years, it's still really raw for her and she cried a few times when telling a few stories: how they were supported by the church but prevented from seeing them and how Richard was prevented from visiting a church. friend when he was dying. It was just devastating. When you throw a grenade into a fox hole, you do not realize that you will have so much collateral damage. "
A late arrival at this year's awards season, "Richard Jewell" has received generally positive reviews and a certain amount of Oscar buzz, but has also attracted its controversial share. Given Eastwood's well-known conservative tendencies, some people have viewed the film from a political lens, seeing it as a kind of Trump-friendly way against two of the president's most frequent targets, the FBI and the media. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has criticized the film for playing late reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, saying it falsely describes her as trading sex for information and demanding a warning. (The newspaper spent years battling a lawsuit filed by Jewell, and in 2011 the Georgian Court of Appeals ruled in its favor.)
In response to the newspaper's accusations, Warner Bros. issued a statement earlier this week calling the allegations "unfounded" and saying, in part: "It is unfortunate and the final irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was part of the rush." to Richard Jewell's trial, is now trying to hurt our filmmakers and cast. Eastwood was not available to comment on this story.
Director Clint Eastwood with Bobi Jewell on the red carpet for the premiere of "Richard Jewell" at AFI Fest on November 20.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
For his part, Rockwell says he does not see the movie in political terms. "I think it's an old-fashioned melodrama about injustice," he says. "It's like a John Grisham novel," The Crucible, "" Philadelphia, "or" A Few Good Men, "by Arthur Miller. They don't make films like that anymore. I don't know if they'll make it in 10 years."
Bates says she can see how Jewell's story can be considered a clear accusation of law enforcement and media outreach, but she expects the film's audience to have a more subtle view.
"The government got it wrong and the media got it wrong, but I don't want people to get out of this movie by dusting these institutions, because now more than ever we need the press to be honest with us," says Bates. “They wanted to solve the case quickly and not lose all that money at the Olympics, and Kathy Scruggs, she really wanted the right story. They were all so in love with trying to do their work, and you can't blame them for it specifically. It is a warning story. I think we all need to slow down and really think about things.
At a time of intense polarization, it is not yet known how the general public will receive "Richard Jewell". But it won't hit anyone the same way as Bryant and Bobi Jewell.
"We had a deep sense of loss when the movie was over," says Bryant. "Paul is so good (like Jewell) that Richard came back for a few hours – and then left again."
"I told Bobi that I thought Richard was orchestrating all this on the other side," he continues. "The great tragedy is that he is not here because he would give a Clint Eastwood movie where he could be with him and all that other stuff. He would be as happy as possible. The next best thing is for Bobi to get there. One of The best thing I've ever seen is this red-carpet Bobi music video with Clint Eastwood looking at his face and smiling. After all this poor woman over the years, having such joy for a while is priceless. "
To this day, Bobi Jewell is not quite sure how his son processed the experience of being publicly defamed for something he had not done, of being turned overnight from a national hero into a supposed criminal who pursued glory. Throughout the process, he didn't say much about her feelings because he didn't want to raise her concerns.
"He lived with it," she says quietly. "There was a lot I didn't know because he didn't tell me. I think the kids will now know what Richard went through. Let's hope it doesn't happen to anyone else."