I have long been a fan of HBO programming, ever since I discovered The Wire and The Soprano’s (two of the greatest shows ever, don’t even try to argue with me). Once again, HBO has outdone themselves, as “Paterno” may have been some of their best work. Famed director Barry Levinson (“The Natural”, “Good Morning Vietnam”, “Rain Man”) offered his expertise to direct the movie, set around the announcement and ensuing aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. In case you live under a rock or recently became interested in college sports, Sandusky, a former Penn State player and assistant coach, was convicted on 45 counts of sexual crimes against children in 2012. When the allegations were made public in 2011, both Penn State University and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno fell under heavy scrutiny for their handling and reporting of the crimes.
The movie begins with Paterno wandering the hallways of what appears to be either a hospital or some sort of treatment facility, before his wife pulled him to where he was supposed to be. Intermittently, a scene will cut back to Paterno (portrayed by Al Pacino) lying down for a CT scan, thoughts racing.
Levinson and crew did a fantastic job of depicting the cult-like following that Paterno had gathered, not only throughout Penn State, but the entire state and nation. The riot scenes, which actually happened, depicted the Penn State student body as crazed, blind supporters of Paterno and the football program as a whole, which if you’ve ever met a Penn State fan, is accurate.
The ever-haunting part of the film were the cut-aways to Jerry Sandusky (played by Jim Johnson). Johnson was great at making his character look like the creep that Sandusky was, which sent chills through my body.
One of the better scenes in my opinion was the first game after Paterno was fired, Penn State vs. Nebraska, in Happy Valley. Before the game, players from both teams joined in a midfield prayer group, but that part was excluded from the movie. Still, the film was able to capture the passion that these fans felt, particularly the passion they felt for their former leader, Joe Paterno. While opinions vary widely on the matter, there are still many that believe Paterno was simply focused on doing his job, and either did not want to believe it, or was unable to notice what was going on behind the scenes. Me, I don’t know what to believe. Going off just the movie, Paterno could not have known. As his wife, in one of the final scenes of the movie, claimed, Sandusky had been in the pool with the Paterno children when they were young. If Paterno had known what a monster Sandusky was, he would have never allowed the children in the pool with him. This point makes sense, and you can begin to see how Paterno would be considered innocent.
A (possible) cliff-hanger at the end may lead to a second movie. Sara Ganim, the Patriot Press reporter who basically uncovered the whole story, takes a call at her desk, and the unidentified male caller explains that he was abused by Sandusky as far back as 1976. Though it is unlikely, I would love for a second and even third part of an HBO-produced movie. Still, the impact of this scandal cannot be given the attention it deserves with one or even three two-hour movies. I’m not too sure what would be able to paint the entire picture besides being around the program at the time the scandal became public.
Overall rating: 8.7/10