This is not a review so much as it is a recommendation. I watched this documentary last night and was blown away. It is a fascinating retelling of the events that transpired in the late 80's about the father and son of this family charged with molestation of young boys. Having read a few further reviews, I find them much more concise and on target than I could create here, so here they are:
Andrew Jarecki's debut feature is a devastating portrait of the collapse of an American family, not to mention a fascinating meditation on film, memory, and truth. Jarecki's project originally started out as a documentary on David Friedman, Manhattan's most popular party clown. As he dug deeper into his subject, however, Jarecki struck gold, unearthing the messy pedophilia scandal that destroyed the Friedman family. Jarecki's serendipity did not end there: In addition to being a compelling subject, the Friedmans turned out to have been inveterate home-video hounds. Comprised of old Friedman footage, news clips from the period, and recent interviews with the family, the movie proves to be a remarkable work of assemblage. Jarecki reconstructs the events that led to the imprisonment of Arnold, the Friedmans' patriarch, and Jesse, one of the three Friedman boys, on sexual abuse charges. Rummaging through the family's attic, Jarecki cobbles together an incisive document that suggests that the two were victims of a media feeding frenzy and mass hysteria in their Great Neck, NY, community. No less an act of distortion is David's father worship. Years after the scandal, the eldest of the Friedman sons still remains convinced of his father's decency — despite Arnold's undisputed possession of child pornography and his own admission that he had committed pedophilia twice before (but never in Great Neck). A study of the American obsession with personal drama and the examined life, Capturing the Friedmans also emerges as a Rashomon-like rumination on the slippery nature of truth. The closer Jarecki looks, it seems, the less we see. While Jarecki's manipulative editing begs the question of just how much of that obscurity is the director's work, the awful drama of the Freidmans' downfall is unmistakably genuine. Jarecki's stabs at metaphysical import may be transparent at times, but it hardly mars the emotional impact of this heartbreaking film. — Elbert Ventura
And two of my favorite reviewers,
I have to say, after seeing it myself, I found the most sympathetic character was the mother. She seemed the most grounded individual of the family, and the one not in denial of the events surrounding her, or as much as she could be. Further, I found that the documentary attempted to caste a slightly softer glow on the accused Friedman's, yet in the attempt, it did nothing but encourage me that they actually did what they were accused of. I will admit, the police work seemed more than excessive. They could have easily convicted at least the father, and most likely the son, with only a few counts of sodomy and molestation, yet they took it so far as to create a sense of disbelief that leads to some distrust in their methods and aims. Still, the way the father comes across is a sad but seemingly quite guilty man, and the son is extremely contradictory in his own statements.
Especially useful here is the excellent DVD package that it comes in. By viewing it under these conditions, one is able to see some of the further issues involved that were not initially inculded in the film, such as an interview Jesse made with Geraldo Rivera after he had gone to prison in which he admitted that he was guilty, and further, that there were others involved, one of which turned state's evidence on Jesse, though he could have easily done so simply to save his own hide.
Ebert and others are quite correct in suggesting that this film reminds them of Paradise Lost and it's sequal. All are fascinating accounts of crime investigations that seem to have the truth far from discovered. It is up to the audience to determine their own feelings about such. Luckily, we are not requested to judge them in a court of law, as this would be damn near impossible to say one way or the other in all certainty. Still, from what I have seen from this documentary, I'd have to say both men got what was coming to them. Further, it struck me as rather creepy to see Jesse, now out of jail, hamming it up in front of audiences and gaining noteriety due to this ordeal. Perhaps he is not guilty, but it is surely not something I would like to be known for. Watch this film if you have not yet seen it. It is well worth your time. That is all.