Clint Eastwood’s extraordinarily subversive Richard Jewell easily ranks as one of the year’s best films, if not its best. Eastwood, Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, and Kathy Bates are at the zenith of their craft; superbly scripted, acted, and shot, it stands with Gran Torino as a poignant memorial to our fallen and degraded nation. The word ‘subversive’ is apt, for only a man with the brand and power of Clint Eastwood could have made this film. Richard Jewell strips the emperor of his robe and lays bare the hypocrisy, ineptitude, ruthlessness, and sheer evil of ‘our’ ruling class. It exposes the corroded institutions of our media and federal law enforcement agencies, revealing their soulless swamp creature denizens for the pathetic yet diabolical hacks that they are.
Richard Jewell was a security guard working at Centennial Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. He discovered Eric Rudolph’s bomb, and through his efforts saved hundreds of lives. The FBI zeroed in on Jewell as their prime suspect; agents leaked this to a sleazy journalist (sound familiar?), and Jewell’s trial by media began in earnest. This man, this hero, had his life raked over the coals and ruined by the corrupt CNN and Atlanta Constitution-Journal. They ridiculed his Southern accent and his lifelong aspiration of being a law enforcement officer. Were it not for the shrewdness of Jewell and his attorney, Watson Bryant, the FBI may have succeeded in destroying the life of an innocent man, as they have many times before. Though this is not included in the film, Jewell won several settlements from the jackals that attempted to railroad him, including Piedmont College, NBC, and the New York Post; CNN settled as well, but never apologized. The retractions and apologies that did occur often fell on deaf ears, as they were never prosecuted as vigorously as the salacious allegations were. His attorney in these defamation suits was none other than Lin Wood, who is currently representing Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High student tarred and feathered by the Washington Post and other outlets.
It is telling that the first person to believe Jewell in the film, other than his mother, is the Russian secretary for Jewell’s attorney. Having lived in the Soviet Union, she understood that often, when everyone in the government and the media proclaim a man’s guilt ‘dead to rights’, he is in fact innocent. This selfsame Soviet cynicism afflicts our citizenry today, in a world in which we cannot trust anything printed under the hallowed marquees of our most prestigious papers, nor anything spewed forth from the mouths of those manicured faces on our vaunted cable networks. Witness the Tawana Brawley race hoax, or the scorched-earth campaigns against Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman. Witness the tabloid circus that came gunning for Brett Kavanaugh. The famous remark of the sadistic NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria comes to mind: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” These people are capable of sending an innocent man to prison for the rest of his life for nothing. They are capable of anything. We’ve witnessed the unraveling of our institutions into brazen corruption; in our two-tiered justice system, heroes are made villains and vice versa, while their despoilers walk away scot-free. Witness Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone. What about Steve Stockman? Or Waco and Ruby Ridge? And yet the Democrats who have just impeached President Trump have the gall to wave the Constitution in our faces, all the while asserting their prayerful reverence for the maxim that in America, nobody is above the law. All of this begs the disquieting question: How long have our institutions been rotten? The infection has only just begun to be visible. How far must it have progressed such that they no longer even try to hide it?
The term ‘ruling class’ is a more accurate descriptor than ‘elite’, for our rulers are most assuredly not elite, in any real sense. Our consecrated Ivy halls churn out Non-Player Characters capable only of parroting stale groupthink from the faculty lounge. They are incompetent but for their merciless willingness to annihilate; often they are incapable even of managing their own affairs, leaving in their wake a string of failed marriages and alienated children. Former FBI Director James Comey is their personification, a middle-aged Boy Scout (excuse me, Scout) suffering a martyrdom complex and delusions of grandeur. Jewell typified the sentiment that the citizens of a healthy, functional country should have toward their law enforcement agencies. He was raised to revere authority, to believe that government agents literally are the United States government. Jewell’s attorney pithily corrects him: these hollow men are not the government, but are rather pricks who work for the government. Near the end of the film, as Jewell is interviewed by several FBI agents, he launches into a beautifully righteous soliloquy. To paraphrase, he says that he used to think being a federal agent was the highest calling a man could have, but that now he is not so sure. He looks to the great seal of the Bureau emblazoned on the wall, the seal that once struck such awe into his heart; but no longer, his awe turned to ashes in his mouth.
Is it so hard for our rulers to believe in heroes? To believe that Jewell was motivated by nothing other than a genuine desire to serve? They reward apathy and malice, while simultaneously discouraging self-sacrifice; after seeing these consequences, what security guard will ever report seeing a bomb again? Why wouldn’t he just run? Good men are scared away from public service, leaving our institutions populated by the remainder. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
This film could not have come at a better time; a great deal of wisdom may be gleaned from it. We must especially encourage our children to see it, as it is not often that the truth slips through the censor’s sieve. What happened to this hero, who laid a rose at the site of the bombing each year until his far too early death, has happened to countless others. It will continue happening. It will only become worse if we do not heed Eastwood’s unspoken words. We are all Richard Jewell.
Neil Kumar is a graduate of the University of Chicago and is currently a student at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with roots in South Carolina that extend to the Revolutionary War. He calls Bentonville, Arkansas, home.