• 21 Apr - 27 Apr, 2018
  • Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
  • Reviews

Paterno, a real-life tragedy without drama, has the markings of a great director etched onto its wobbly, hand-held, frames. The name is on the credits (which I didn’t research before watching the film) is Barry Levinson – the Oscar winning director of Rainman, Sleepers and Good Morning Vietnam.

Levinson, who works again with Al Pacino after The Humbling, crafts a straightforward, simpleminded motion picture based on recent history. Joe Paterno, the main point of reference of the film, is a legend in College football (called Rugby over here). A life-long faculty member and coach of Penn State University, Paterno – in his late 80’s – had coached 409 wins for the University in his 61-year career.

Paterno lives and breathes football, and completely misses on his assistant coaches’ counts of child-molestation. Jerry Sandusky, the assistant coach who had since been fired and on trial for 52 counts of molestation, had access to Penn State’s facilities for his immoral activities. The upper management knew about the allegations, but decided to hush things up; their oversight was disastrous.

At times, Levinson’s choice for framing the narrative around Paterno, raises questions. It was a tricky move to shift the story’s protagonist to someone who had little to do with anything. Sandusky (Jim Johnson), main victim Aaron Fisher (Benjamin Cook) and local reporter Sara Ganim (Riley Keough), who blew the lid off the secret and created a national sensation, have limited, scattered screen-time. Paterno, who seemed to have an idea about Sandusky, isn’t directly involved with the case; though in a sense, he is an accomplice.

Pacino, known for his “hoo-hah” predispositions, plays Paterno with slight intelligent nuances of an 84-year-old man, whose memories flash to and fro when jolted with the right reference. The gravity of what he failed to pick-up on creeps up very slowly for Paterno, who was ultimately fired by Penn State as a scapegoat and died of cancer complications two months later.

Paterno is a masterclass of ambiguous filmmaking. Levinson paints his targets broad, yet doesn’t indulge in over-exploiting the case that has made history (Ganim won a Pulitzer for her reporting on the case). The spin is unique, and shifts the film to a strange new narrative domain; one specifically targeted to showcase the film’s leading actor.