Al Pacino does haunting work in HBO’s Paterno as Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach who was a cowardly liar when it came to the case of Jerry Sandusky, one of Paterno’s assistants—and now a convicted pedophile.
The film, directed by Barry Levinson, starts with Paterno on top of the world, about to win a record-setting football game. But behind the scenes, a story is brewing—one that will derail Paterno and others who led at a university that chose to cover up Sandusky’s acts in order to protect a legendary football program.
That, of course, was disgusting, and Levinson’s film drives that point home in what amounts to a horror show. Jim Johnson, who plays Sandusky in a few chilling scenes, looks a lot like the real guy—so much so that your stomach turns when he’s onscreen. Sorry, Mr. Johnson.
Pacino portrays Paterno as he appeared during his final days: completely lost and at death’s door. Pacino’s Paterno comes off as being in a bit of a haze, but the actor shows us something behind Paterno’s confused eyes. It’s that slight glint of knowing everything, and remembering everything—the look of lying.
Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter) is excellent as Sara Ganim, one of the first reporters to break the story. Benjamin Cook is heartbreakingly good as one of Sandusky’s victims.
It’s a hard movie to watch, and it should be.
Paterno is now on HBO and streaming on HBO Go.