On DVD this week from director Barry Levinson and HBO Home Entertainment comes an intense story surrounding the legendary coach “Paterno.”
It is 2011 and Joe Paterno (Al Pacino), coach of Penn State football, is about to have a lifelong career set on a path of destruction. Retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been outed by reporter Sara Ganim (Riley Keough) of The Patriot-News for sexually abusing young men.
Shocked by the Sandusky allegations, Paterno continues with his coaching responsibilities as wife Sue (Kathy Baker) and family Jay (Larry Mitchell), Scott (Greg Grunberg), and Mary Kay (Annie Parisse) doesn’t understand his seeming lack of concern. As the family reads the presentment, they are each horrified at what has happened. Speaking with them, Paterno says that in 2001 he had heard about an incident and reported it right away.
Telling athletic director Tim Curley and University President Graham Spanier, Paterno thought it was all handled. The Paterno family rallies together to try and discover the best way to handle the situation but the media frenzy is way ahead of them. Ganim also continues to investigate and loses friends in the process as they refuse to believe that Paterno had anything to do with a cover-up.
When the university decides to end Paterno’s career, Penn State students begin to gather on campus for a night of protesting. Reporter Ganim tries to report the feelings of the students only to be surprised that although they believe in Paterno, they won’t go public with their feelings.
Now Paterno is facing his own mortality and has to think about what he was told and how things became so out of control. “I tried to spend my whole life making my name mean something” – and now it forever attached to a horrible crime.
Pacino as Paterno is such a sad character to watch because here is a man who had one of the most notable football coaching careers of all time yet he seemed to not understand what is happening. The scene where he realizes his own kids once played in a pool with Sandusky forces Paterno to go into his own memory and live with the choices he made then. Pacino is powerful and intense showing the mortality and frail life of a man who focused on football and didn’t see the bigger picture – or did he?
Bates as wife Sue is horrified at the Sandusky allegations and is conflicted as to whether her husband truly understands what is at stake. Mitchell as Jay does his best to understand his father’s explanations and along with Grunberg as Scott want people to focus on the victims and not their father. Parisse as Mary Kay is just as confused about her father’s reactions as her mother Sue yet wants to protect Paterno as much as possible.
Keough as Ganim is a young reporter who manages to do what the big networks can not – get those who are the victims to come forward and tell their truth. Elvis’ granddaughter does herself well in this film and although the role is small, it is important in following the trail.
Other cast include: Michael Mastro as Guido D’Elia, Joshua Morgan as Bobby, Mitchel Mack as Devon Smith, Darren Goldstein as Mike McQueary, Nicholas Sadler as Todd, Julian Gamble as Galen Hall, William Hill as Tom Bradley, Kaliswa Brewster as Mara Lewis, Josh Mowery as Ron Vanderlinden and Joseph Setticase as Drew Astorino.
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The DVD includes the Bonus Features About Paterno: Director Barry Levinson and stars Al Pacino and Riley Keough discuss the story behind the film and its perspective and Joe Paterno’s Impact: Barry Levinson and Al Pacino talk about Joe Paterno’s responsibilities relating to the scandal.
“Paterno” is a film that will bring into question, “Did he or didn’t he?” know what was going on in his own organization. Is it possible that Paterno thought he had done all he could (of course we know the answer to that now) or did he believe it was being dealt with? Or, does Pacino’s portrayal of a man who was a genius on the gridiron truly not have one single clue about what he was reading in the Sandusky indictments.
What I find noticeable about “Paterno” is that although at times what is described in the indictments is disturbing, the storytelling can actually be seen as the problem within organized sports. How there are individuals who are willing to overlook anything (and this film proves anything) to keep their records and their fame status quo.
In the end – the greater the legend the harder the fall!