HBO's Paterno is based on the true story of rampant sexual abuse against minors. It's notable for being about the abuse of young boys, and it is an important topic to be tackled since it is not depicted enough in mainstream media. Instead of focusing on the victims or the perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, the story centers on Sandusky's superior, legendary Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, and the backlash he faced on whether he acted enough in behalf of the victims.
It's an interesting take since it tooks into account the moral responsibility of those who were not directly involved in sexual abuse, but who were more or less aware of the situation, and had the power to do something about it. The movie follows Paterno in his greatest achievement of becoming the winingest US college football coach in history as the sexual abuse scandal comes to the national spotlight.
Al Pacino is fascinating to watch as the then 84 year old coach. The character is often quiet, slow to move, but carries the strength of his legendary sports stature. It is easier for an actor when your character is expressive, you can lash out and show your character's emotion in the full spectrum which makes depicting Paterno more of a challenge. Pacino does this brilliantly. In his stillness, he was able to bring to the screen the emotions raging in the coach's head.
We do expect it of the Hollywood legend, and among the supporting cast, one standout is young Broadway actor and dancer Benjamin Cook, who plays victim Aaron Fisher. His character is meant to show his pain but like most victims he is trying to hide it and just wishes to blend in the crowd. Cook is able to balance out this two things about his persona and without overacting. As a stage actor he would be used to big movements. It is great that he is able to transition easily to subtle movements for a character that has a lot to say, but is trying his best to fade.
There are, however, several flaws here. it may have been better if more screen time were given for the victim's point of view. It was too short for us to feel the gravity of the situation. It is an important story to tell, so maybe hone the point more, and make it clearer. The twist in the ending in particular feels more like an afterthought, like they were in a hurry to end it so they gave a sort-of-answer as to what Paterno knew after sitting on it through the movie.
The storyline itself is also rather convulated although that may have been intentional to add to the sense of chaos depicted in the movie. It makes it really hard to feel for any of the characters, even Aaron who had a too short screen time and Paterno. It is not a compelling drama and some parts feel like its dragging as a result, but still Pacino's brillaince on screen is well worth it.