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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 36.67%
Average: 13.33%
Pretty Bad: 1.67%
Total Crap: 1.67%

5 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Capturing the Friedmans
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by EricDSnider

"The best anti-child molestation film of the year."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans" exhibits a far better skill for storytelling than most documentaries do, masterfully weaving all the facts into the picture one by one until a complete, harrowing image has emerged. It is more intriguing than a lot of fiction, and told in a more compelling manner than most film stories.

The Friedmans -- Arnold and Elaine, with sons Jesse, David and Seth -- were a typical Jewish family in Great Neck, N.Y., in the 1980s. Arnie, a loosey-goosey man with a corny sense of humor, had been everyone's favorite school teacher; now he was retired and taught computer classes in his basement to neighborhood children. Elaine was cold and distant, but a good mother. The boys were happy and well-adjusted.

Then came allegations from the computer students that Arnie and his eldest son Jesse had sexually abused them, dozens of them, dozens of times. Arnie was found to be in possession of child pornography and he confessed to some smaller crimes. Jesse confessed to nothing. The family, needless to say, was torn apart.

What is most extraordinary about the film is Jarecki's access to family photos and home movies. The Friedmans loved documenting themselves, even -- amazingly -- in the midst of the legal battles and court trials. Here's footage of Arnold Friedman the night before he went to jail, attempting joviality with his sons; here are dozens of other clips showing the family in its natural habitat, trying to maintain normalcy despite the horrific problems facing it.

Jarecki also excels at telling the story in a manner that is fascinating without being manipulative. By revealing information in a methodical manner, he takes us on a twisted path of conflicting emotions. At first, it seems obvious that Arnold is guilty of all the crimes. Some of the students who accused him are interviewed, some in shadows or with their voices altered. The evidence seems irrefutable.

But then other details emerge. One student appears on camera, fully recognizable, and insists nothing untoward ever happened. Logical facts are presented that make the stories of the children seem suspect. Jesse continues to maintain his own innocence, flatly contradicting what his lawyer tells Jarecki about the way his case was handled.

And then there are more facts about the Friedmans, about Arnold's upbringing, about his brother, about Elaine's disposition toward the family. Up to the final minutes, more information is being revealed, so much that you get the feeling if the film went on for another hour, it would only get more rich and textured.

Jarecki's style is even-handed and fair, showing all sides of the issue in a non-hysterical way. I honestly don't know Jarecki's opinion on the innocence or guilty of the Friedmans, and that's a good thing. The subject matter is harrowing (though the details of it are not dwelt upon unduly), but the film is so well-made and thought-provoking that its social importance should outweigh any qualms one has about seeing it. It's not something I can say I "enjoyed," necessarily, but I'm certainly glad to have seen such an accomplished piece of work.

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originally posted: 03/18/03 18:09:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/17/07 MP Bartley Horrifying, yet compelling. A total car crash of a family and a situation. 4 stars
8/17/06 Mary Beth not a date movie 4 stars
5/31/06 stephanie willis interesting, to say the least 4 stars
10/04/05 tatum Good, but highly manipulative 4 stars
8/22/05 gene good 5 stars
4/27/05 Gregory S incredible, haunting movie, utterly brilliant 5 stars
9/23/04 denny home videos were amazing; why did they make them? brother/clown was very sick 4 stars
8/30/04 Tam I was utterly mesmerised by this haunting film. Sympathies 2 victims (& Jesse if innocent) 5 stars
7/10/04 John Aster Habig does it make a point? at first i thought it was intriguing but gross now it is just gross 3 stars
7/08/04 Bob It's frightening to see societal hysteria at work. It's also an essential reminder. 5 stars
6/05/04 MyGreenBed Good voyeurism, didn't have an emotional response, son was railroaded, dad's a sicko. 4 stars
5/06/04 Mark Fulwiler Very impressive and thought provoking 5 stars
3/19/04 Cary Gordon Hard to watch, but damn engaging. 5 stars
3/17/04 Holly Beeman A very chilling documentary. I still don't know what to believe. 4 stars
3/02/04 Michael Mungin Very very sad, but very watchable. 5 stars
8/22/03 Lynn Murphy Best pro-pedophilia film of the year! 2 stars
8/05/03 Kelly The most thought provoking film I've seen in years, viscerally painful to watch at times! 5 stars
7/30/03 Reese Witherspoon suckzzzzz An astonishing documentary 5 stars
7/03/03 EL GREAT documentary! I cannot stop thinking about it and I saw it a week ago! 5 stars
7/03/03 barry of margate Even though the subject matter is very disturbing,this film is very unique. 4 stars
6/23/03 dj parmet Excellent but perplexing. Why did the family expose itself to the world/ 4 stars
6/19/03 Jan You will talk about it after seeing 5 stars
6/18/03 Larry pass 1 stars
5/28/03 Ralph Bradshaw Confusingly compelling. Who do you belive? 5 stars
5/28/03 Charles Manson I thought the movie was fun. It kills. 5 stars
5/18/03 Jesse Friedman Intereseted in learning more? 5 stars
4/13/03 Andrew Elliott This film is not just the best documentary, but one of the best films I've seen ever. 5 stars
4/03/03 chris T Unbelievably powerful, a film of incredible depth and intensity. So well made. 5 stars
3/13/03 the real Tommy Filmore I did not see this movie and resent my impersonator 3 stars
3/12/03 Tommy Filmore Oe of the best I've ever seen. I' heartbroken by the tragedy and injustice Jesse suffered. 4 stars
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  DVD: 27-Jan-2004



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