Clint Eastwood goes political, guns for Oscar with 'Richard Jewell' trailer

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Just when you thought awards season was safe for Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, here comes Clint Eastwood with another last-minute Oscar contender. The first trailer for Richard Jewell shows the director working in the same “based on a true story” vein as Sully and American Sniper, the latter of which earned $350 million in 2015 along with a nomination for Best Picture. And, like those movies, reflects Eastwood’s particular political leanings in the way it takes the side of the individual against political bureaucracy and the mass media. (Watch the trailer above.)

Written by Billy Ray, the film dramatizes the experiences of the titular security guard, who was on duty in Atlanta’s Centennial Park on the night of July 27, 1996, when a domestic terrorist bombing interrupted the Summer Olympics. Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting the bomb before it detonated, giving officials precious time to evacuate the grounds, saving hundreds of lives in the process. In the days following the bombing, though, both the FBI and the media came to view him as a potential suspect, upending his personal and private life. While he was eventually exonerated after Eric Rudolph was identified as the bomber, Jewell spent the rest of his life correcting the public record in court. (Jewell died in 2007; Rudolph is serving four consecutive life sentences in a Colorado prison.)

The trailer makes it very clear where Eastwood stands on the question of who the guilty parties in this story are. “His accusers are two of the most powerful forces in the world,” says Sam Rockwell, who plays Watson Bryant — a fictionalized version of Jewell’s real-life attorney, L. Lin Wood. “The United States government and the media.” The government is represented in the film by Jon Hamm’s federal agent Tom Shaw, who has his eye on Jewell (played by Paul Walter Hauser) right away. “You always look at the guy who found the bomb, just like you always look at the guy who found the body,” Shaw intones gravely. And he tries to make his case against Jewell stick by interrogating him without a lawyer present, asking him to repeat the same warning delivered by the bomber, all the while insisting that it may be the only way he can clear his name.

Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde stands in for the media as reporter Kathy Scruggs, an Atlanta journalist who also believes in Jewell’s guilt. “Jewell fits the profile of the lone bomber,” she remarks. “A frustrated white man who is a police wanna-be who seeks to become a hero.” That attitude doesn’t sit well with Bryant, who tells Scruggs, “You’ve ruined this man’s life!”

The trailer’s pronounced sense of aggrievement towards the media and the FBI certainly sound familiar to anyone who has been following real-world headlines — or, for that matter, certain Tweets coming from the White House. Not surprisingly, the movie’s political stance is already becoming a subject of debate on social media, with many noting Eastwood’s choice of timing to tell this story.

On the other hand, there are those who speaking up for Eastwood’s worldview, and taking into account his legacy as an auteur.

With this much passion already being generated on both sides, you can bet that Richard Jewell will be a topic of holiday conversation even if it falls behind in the Oscar race.

Richard Jewell opens in theaters on Dec. 13.

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