It’s been a long and ultimately disappointing road for Paterno, the first narrative to attempt to confront the horror and insanity of the Jerry Sandusky case. At first, Brian De Palma was attached to the project, originally titled Happy Valley, with Al Pacino signed on to play Joe Paterno, the once-celebrated Penn State football coach who (allegedly) helped cover up assistant coach Sandusky’s years of pedophilia. De Palma is the perfect choice for the story, which is why I imagine he was eventually replaced with Barry Levinson, a competent director who has an irksome tendency to play it safe with volatile material, while Pacino remains in the lead role. In fact, the first trailer for Levinson’s Paterno, which can be viewed right below, was released yesterday and suggests a cookie-cutter quasi-biopic about the case in the same mold as Levinson’s other work with HBO.
The entire trailer is framed as a question of Paterno’s guilt, ending with his son asking “Did you know?” This puts it in a similar league as Levinson’s last film for HBO, The Wizard of Lies, about Bernie Madoff and the familial aftermath of him being charged and jailed for his crimes. In both cases, the focus remains on an older man who has become famous due to incalculable amounts of cover-ups and shady dealings having to face the truth of his actions when confronted by his own children.Its a worthy subject but also feels a bit stale, considering that most movies nowadays are about children trying to reckon with the shadows of their parents. In this case, its the father who must reckon with an age where your iconic status can be easily gutted by your leniency toward crimes ranging from the petty to the horrific.
This is only a teaser trailer, so maybe this will all shake out to Levinson’s benefit when the movie finally hits HBO later this year. That being said, most trailers literally spell out the movie for you nowadays, so I’m sticking with my gut for now. Indeed, I already have the unmistakable feeling that Paterno won’t be able to fully come to terms with the scope and gut-level terror of Sandusky’s crimes, to say nothing of the people who protected him in the hopes of shielding a football team and college’s legacy.
Here’s the teaser trailer for Paterno:
Here’s the official synopsis for Paterno:
After becoming the winningest coach in college football history, Paterno’s legacy is challenged and he is forced to face questions of institutional failure. Academy Award® and Emmy® Award winner Al Pacino returns to HBO in the title role, as Penn State’s Joe Paterno in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.