Paterno, screenplay by Debora Cahn
Once upon a time, al Pacino was such an unknown entity that when his name was suggested for The Godfather, he was rejected, and then it took some time to convince executives…
This and other intriguing, fascinating stories are part of a thrilling book, the Kid Stays in the Picture, by a former actor, producer and head of the Paramount Studio, Robert Evans who explains the success of one of the best- in the top five actually- motion pictures of all time.
The contribution of the cast, the selection of an Italian director were crucial- a bet had been made and since Francis Ford Coppola has won it, the producer received a call from Mercedes America, about a limousine which was the object of the bet, to inform those paying for it that this model is so limited, only three people would have it, the pope, the director and some dictator somewhere in the world.
When asking for Al Pacino- after he had received a confirmation- Robert Evans says that at the other end of the call, he was asked-
You will have to spell it for me
Then this same story was repeated, when the actor was requested at another studio where he has started working or was engaged in the meantime and where he was also unknown and the spelling of the name was required…
Al Pacino is now a deity, so well known that any cinefile knows his work, the phenomenal achievements – Scarface, Scent of a Woman, one can even enjoy- this viewer did- Bobby Deerfield, And Justice for All, Heat, Serpico and so many more.
Alas, in recent years there is a feeling that the once outstanding, luminous, excellent artist has reached his zenith and he is now on a descending curve, well past his glory days alas.
In addition, he could be obnoxious in the moments of bliss and maximum achievement, according to another quintessential- better than the Kid Stays in the Picture- work on Hollywood and movies:
Adventures in the Screen Trade by the winner of two Academy Awards, William Goldman
From this ultimate masterpiece on the film industry we learn about Dustin Hoffman and his mean behavior on the set of Marathon Man, when he was cruel with Laurence Olivier and another actor, plus the whole crew, Robert Redford, after the launch of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and in the pre-production for All the President’s Men was also obnoxious, to say the least.
In Paterno, Al Pacino, has the leading role of Joe Paterno, a legendary coach – indeed, the most successful in college history- that has enjoyed acclaim, a zenith, the love of athletes and crowds.
Alas, it is the end of this brilliant – if we discount what we are about to learn- career as a coach and this man and others in his entourage, in leadership positions at Pen State University are involved in a sex scandal.
Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile that instead of being exposed, made to face consequences, punishment and evidently banishment from areas, premises where he could abuse children, he was protected.
Seemingly a “nice man” his colleagues and superiors thought this might be just an innocent game, he may have made a mistake- but all this is unacceptable, because it was not just once, this monster was a repeat offender.
Paterno is not Spotlight, even if the sexual scandals around the Catholic Church and some aspects regarding this type of horrifying offence against children- as young as ten, perhaps younger- are similar in their abhorrence, the lenience that the serial abusers received from their superiors and at times, from the law.
What makes watching Paterno worthwhile- even if this is not exhilarating or one of the best films of recent history- is the fact that the protagonist is a complex character and so many people love and regret him, even after the scandal broke out, tough measures were called for and revelations made clear that, although he was very “busy „with couching, Paterno knew about what happened.
In the age of MeToo and so many scandals involving clergy, film producers, stars, directors and executives, the attitude of forgiveness seems to encourage more abuse and suffering.
One can feel compassion for an old- actually eighty-four years old- coach, who has done so much for his football team- he highlights the fact that 85 % - was it? – of his players went on to pass exams.
However, the question remains: what about the victims, tens of young boys have been repeatedly raped, abused- at one point, the old protagonist is asking his family, while he reads a report of the vile acts perpetrated by the villainous Jerry Sandusky, what is sodomized?
In conclusion- you could do better than watch Paterno, which is not as astounding as recent features like: The Square, Nelyubov, A Fantastic Woman, On Body and Soul or The Insult…or perhaps the glorious Leviafan, one of the best films ever made.