The reviews are in for “Paterno,” HBO’s new drama about legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the horrifying child sex abuse scandal that ended his career and clouds his legacy.
The film covers a brief period in November 2011 surrounding the arrest of Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky for sexually abusing young boys — including a 10-year-old who was molested in a shower on campus in 2001. A graduate assistant witnessed the incident and told Paterno about it, but the coach never contacted authorities. Paterno was fired Nov. 9, 2011, and died 74 days later from lung cancer.
The Los Angeles Times says the film “has many things to show you, but less to say.”
Penn Live says the “disjointed narrative … goes no deeper than sound bites.”
The Guardian says Levinson “uses heavy-handed stylization as a crutch where his film lacks focus.”
Variety says the movie “ultimately fumbles” as it “clumsily tries to sympathize with Paterno instead of the young boys he chose to ignore until it was too late.”
But the harshest critics of “Paterno” are some of the men who played for the coach.
Nearly 300 former Nittany Lions — including former Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris — signed a statement Monday ripping the HBO movie as “shameless” and “reckless.”
“As Penn State Lettermen, there was never a question that one day we would see a movie made about Joe Paterno, one that showcased his impact on the game of football, on Penn State University and, on the thousands of men he coached and mentored over his 61-year career,” they wrote. “Sadly — and wrongly — HBO’s ‘Paterno’ is not that movie.
“It has been described by producer Barry Levinson as a work of fiction, which is likely the only truth in the entire project. Incredibly, in making the movie, Levinson and his team never consulted a single person who was close to, worked with, or was coached by Joe Paterno. Not even family members or us, who undoubtedly knew him best of all.
“As a result, this uninformed depiction of Joe fails in every manner about the man we knew and loved. Deviously using ‘fiction’ as his shield, Levinson takes shameless liberties about the Sandusky scandal and Joe’s knowledge of it that would certainly be proven libelous if Joe were alive today.
“As a coach, educator and philanthropist, Joe Paterno was a positive force in our lives, molding us not only to win games, but to win in life. His character, integrity, and moral compass will live on in us long after the ill-gotten ratings of this reckless attempt at entertainment fades away.”
Levinson was asked in an interview with Sports Illustrated last month whether he anticipated backlash from Paterno loyalists because the film “comes down pretty firmly on the side that he should have done more to stop Sandusky.”
“You would assume that that would be the case, because there are some that don’t want to hear anything,” the director said. “But I think we’re being very journalistic: This is the information that in fact exists. We’re not making up these stories. This is what exists. You would hope that people can look at it, and realize that we’ve put quite a bit of time and research into it.
“This isn’t some kind of movie where we have an agenda — we’re trying to tell the story of the information as it laid out. That’s all you can do. You try to show the man in all lights, you know? In some ways, that’s the tragedy of it.”
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