Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drama off the Field Hbo's 'Paterno' Suggests What the Penn State Coach Knew

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drama off the Field Hbo's 'Paterno' Suggests What the Penn State Coach Knew

Article excerpt

HBO's "Paterno" (8 p.m. Saturday), ultimately takes a point of view on what the beloved Penn State coach knew about former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's role in sexually abusing minors, but the film doesn't fully show its hand until its final moments.

It's an engaging (and, perhaps to some defenders of Joe Paterno, it will be an enraging) film that explores character, the politics of college athletics and the value of local journalism in a style that's more process piece thriller than it is anything like a biopic given how "Paterno" concentrates on a short period in the coach's life.

That laser-like focus benefits "Paterno," a taut story told in a succinct fashion - the film runs just one hour and 40 minutes - that mostly avoids tangents. It's Emmy bait for star Al Pacino, writers Debora Cahn ("Homeland," "Vinyl") and John C. Richards ("Nurse Betty") and director Barry Levinson ("The Wizard of Lies," "Homicide: Life on of the Street").

Mr. Pacino stars as Joe Paterno, who relives the whole child sex abuse scandal from inside an MRI machine around the time of his cancer diagnosis, which followed shortly after he was fired as head coach of Penn State's football team in November 2011.

Although most of the film is set during two weeks in November 2011, "Paterno" also contains flashbacks to earlier events as it pieces together Sandusky's abusive history and how Penn State leaders mismanaged evidence of a molester in their midst.

Paterno is depicted at first as incurious about the charges against Sandusky. After his record-setting 409th career win, the coach is mostly worried about what comes next on the football field.

"I've got [a game against] Nebraska a week from today, just so ya know," Paterno grumbles when the umpteenth person suggests he read the grand jury's report on Sandusky.

After a while it seems like the coach wants to stay willfully ignorant. …

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