Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Movie Review: Paterno

Paterno *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Barry Levinson.
Written by: Debora Cahn and John C. Richards.
Starring: Al Pacino (Joe Paterno), Riley Keough (Sara Ganim), Kathy Baker (Sue Paterno), Greg Grunberg (Scott Paterno), Annie Parisse (Mary Kay Paterno), Ben Cook (Aaron Fisher), Jim Johnson (Jerry Sandusky), Peter Jacobson (David Newhouse), Larry Mitchell (Jay Paterno), Darren Goldstein (Mike McQueary), Kristen Bush (Dawn Fisher), Sean Cullen (Dan McGinn), Steve Coulter (Tim Curley), Tom Kemp (Graham Spanier), William Hill (Tom Bradley), Michael Mastro (Guido D'Elia), Josh Mowrey (Ron Vanderlinden).
Al Pacino gives another of his great late career performances as disgraced former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. The film is basically a study in denial, as it documents a few months in the life of Paterno following the indictment of his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on multiple charges of child molestation. It was a scandal that rocked Penn State, and as it unfolded, and more and more information came out, and it became clear that so many – including Paterno himself – knew something, and did nothing, it just became bigger. Paterno dedicated his life to coaching at Penn State – he spent decades there, refusing other job offers for more money, and was basically treated as a God on campus. People didn’t just see him as a great football coach, but as a great educator, a great humanitarian, and a great man. But how could Paterno not do more than he did with the information he had?
As a movie, Paterno would probably work best as part of a double bill with Amir Bar-Lev’s great documentary Happy Valley (2014), was chronicled the Sandusky scandal, but more really the fallout on campus afterwards – where it seemed more people were upset with how Paterno was treated than they were about the Sandusky scandal. You could also read some of the great, Pulitzer Prize winning work done by Sara Ganim, the Patriot-News reporter, who broke the story months before the indictments – which was ignored – but kept on pushing, and pursuing more and more leads and survivors as the story finally did break nationally. Ganim is played, in a very good performance here by Riley Keough – who is quickly becoming a favorite actress of mine with her work in films like American Honey, It Comes at Night and Logan Lucky. Either of those will give you a bigger, more complete picture of what happened.
What Paterno does is take you behind the closed door of the Paterno home during that time. When it comes out that Paterno had known about at least one allegation a decade before – because another assistant coach reported to Paterno that he had seen Sandusky raping a boy in the shower, and Paterno did nothing except report it to his superiors – the next day, as to not spoil their weekend – the media attention on Paterno heated up. His weekly press conference was cancelled, a weak statement followed, and soon the legend had announced his retirement at the end of the season – and after that, was fired outright. Since Paterno died of cancer a few months later, he never really did publicly address anything.
What the film does then is show Paterno as he it’s behind closed doors, with his family, still actively refusing to engage with what is happening outside – and trying to convince everyone that it had nothing to do with him. He’s there to coach football – and he has a game to prepare for. He doesn’t read the indictments that come down, doesn’t want to talk about them, pushes aside any suggestion that perhaps he could have and should have, done more. He reported it to his superiors, what else was he supposed to do? This is all just a distraction from the important thing – football. Can’t he just get back to doing that?
Pacino is great in the film, especially when he is quiet. He has done a few of these HBO biopics movies in the last few years – he won an Emmy for playing Jack Kevorkian for Paterno director Barry Levinson in You Don’t Know Jack, and like in that film, he has an opportunity to go big here, but instead goes quieter – and it’s more effective (he didn’t have that chance in David Mamet’s Phil Spector, the other HBO project – which is perhaps why it’s clearly the weakest). Pacino doesn’t really try and do a Paterno impression here – but instead goes for something deeper – something that was perhaps missing in Paterno that allowed him to compartmentalize everything.
What’s most impressive about the movie is how it basically shows Paterno is pain from beginning to end – and yet doesn’t encourage or engender any sympathy for the man. Everything he goes through in the film he brings on himself. The movie made the choice to essentially be an interior study of Paterno, and thus, not give the full dimension of what happened – and that has its positives and negatives – but for Pacino, this is a triumph.

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