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PATERNO (2018) Film Review

PATERNO (2018)
TV-MA | 1h 45min | Biography, Sport | TV Movie 7 April 2018
Director: Barry Levinson
Writers: Debora Cahn, John C. Richards
Stars: Al Pacino, Kathy Baker, Riley Keough

SYNOPSIS: Exactly one day after becoming the winningest coach in college football history, Penn State's Joe Paterno (Pacino) becomes engulfed in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Paterno's 61 year legacy is immediately challenged and he is forced to face questions of institutional failure in regard to the victims.

REVIEW: 4.5/5.0 Stars

Picture this: A long tenured King suddenly finds himself embroiled in a wedge between the mad adulation of his loyal minions and a sudden attack by an invading enemy. So near to his natural end, he thinks to himself: Why me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this?

Sounds like one of Sophocles' Theban plays, right?

Well, not quite, but you're closer than you think.

As we all learned in the Fall of 2012, a real-life Greek tragedy unfolded in the city-state of State College, PA. And the king, was coach Joe Paterno, affectionately known as "Joe-Pah" to his campus army. The invading force was the sudden national news frenzy (and resulting conflagration) over the indictment of pedophile Jerry Sandusky and the demands for culpability by Campus Officials.

The story takes place during ONE week in the life of the Paterno family. And it is quite possibly one of the strangest 7 days that any man of preeminence has ever endured. A monumental reversal of fortunes. A sheer collapse from citadel to sewer. And all of the emotions that you might imagine (absurdity, disbelief, irony, regret, self-examination, anger, betrayal, embarrassment) course through Paterno's eyes we see his life's canvas being gessoed clean with no chance of reversing it in his lifetime. And he knows it.

Most of the film's action is set in the modest Paterno family home. The first scene in the home is later in the evening after the record-breaking win over Univ of Illinois. Not one to celebrate, the 84 year old genius coach is already busy watching game films in preparation for next week's opponent, Univ of Nebraska.

But a few feet way at the kitchen table, his wife and sons are reviewing gory details online about the Jerry Sandusky indictment. Sandusky was a former Assistant Coach at Penn State, fired 10 years earlier. The more the family reads details aloud, the more the coach demands solitude and isolation--so that he can focus on his work.

The next few days are a steady drip of new facts, additional tension and on-campus physical conflict.

It soon becomes apparent that damage control is required before Thursday's weekly pre-game news conference. Knowing that this event will turn into a media circus the family consults a professional for his legal opinion and realize that the only way out is to have the king fall on his sword.

But, before Joe can resign, the University Trustees cancel the Press Conference and swiftly fire whomever they believe to have been culprits, enablers and facilitators in Sandusky's crimes. Paterno is one of the sacrificial lambs. But was he really only a lamb? Or did he know more facts and perhaps even decades earlier? This question is posited in the final scene.

Al Pacino's acting is as fine as you'd expect. He IS Joe Paterno. The aging and ailing genius is right there in front of us. Every creak in his hip and pain in his head are demonstrated through physical action and very conservative dialog. Joe is not a speechy man. He is a leader and a icon, so Pacino employs the "Less is More" axiom with amazing results. Kathy Baker as Paterno's wife is also outstanding in her conflicted transformation through Hell Week. Playing Sara Ganim, the cub reporter from Harrisburg who broke the story, is Riley Keough (grand-daughter of Elvis Presley). Keough is appropriately cast as an inexperienced newbie who gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a Pulitzer Prize.

Very sad, devastating and heartbreaking on all sides. No survivors are left unscathed.

But, hopefully, future narcissistic pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky will be brought to justice sooner through greater awareness, better preparation and unrelenting diligence.

Categories: Film Review

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