Capturing the Friedmans - DVD Review

'two police officers who investigated the case give wild exaggerations of ‘mountains’ of pornographic material and ‘knowing’ Friedman was guilty while another steadfastly admits that there was never and has never been a single shred of physical evidence. No hair. No fibre. No case'

A few weeks ago I had a bit of a moan at a certain film title which didn’t really reflect what the films was about and made it sound like a kitsch Saturday afternoon actioner. No such problem with Capturing the Friedmans which may be one of the best titled films to be released in recent memory.

The key is the word ‘capture’ which a free online dictionary check reveals means ‘to take captive, as by force or craft; seize’. The point here is that ‘capture’ doesn’t really insinuate any guilt or necessarily malice. You can capture a criminal but you can also capture a fluffy rabbit for your dinner.

And so goes the central conceit of this expose of the Friedmans who found their father and youngest of three sons both accused of being paedophiles and having indecent relationships with young boys who were apparently visiting their house for a computer club. Director Andrew Jarecki refuses to be drawn overly to one side or the other and presents a very measured account exploring whether the Friedmans were guilty or innocent, criminal or rabbit.

Of course the old phrase ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ tends to ring true in these cases and Jarecki leaves us in little doubt that Father Friedman was a fan of some particularly un-savoury magazines. But there is certainly question marks over what went on at the computer club and if anything Jarecki is willing to throw his sympathies behind the family.

Jarecki shows a judge who freely admits that she was sure of the two’s guilt before they entered a court room, a ‘victims’ father who remains certain that from everything he has heard and seen, nothing happened at the club apart from computer lessons. We then see another ‘victim’ whose story of abuse alters as he tells it and another who testifys that nothing happened there whatsoever. Perhaps more worryingly, two police officers who investigated the case give wild exaggerations of ‘mountains’ of pornographic material and ‘knowing’ Friedman was guilty while another steadfastly admits that there was never and has never been a single shred of physical evidence. No hair. No fibre. No case.

Of course all of the above doesn’t stop small town American going beserk and it’s this too that Jarecki wants to probe in to. With two such open topics and mixed stories it is difficult for Jarecki to reach a conclusion and this documentary bears remarkable resemble to the dramatisation of the Zodiac story which left mainstream audiences frustrated through its lack of definite closure. The thing to remember is that for a film to be ‘good’ it need not provide an answer. In fact is it not braver to provide us with the facts and open itself and its subject up to the public at large? As stated you can just about see Jarecki leaning towards the Friedmans but unlike Zodiac the film is remarkable in its unwillingness to hazard a ‘best guess answer’ on the case.

In the end ‘capturing’ doesn’t really need to be there at all and audiences will probably fall somewhere in the middle of replacing it with ‘victimising’ or maybe something like ‘arresting’, ‘tracking’ or something cleverer that means ‘bringing to justice’ which I can’t quite fathom right now. Either way it’s a brave film about a tough subject which grips the attention from beginning to end.

IMDB tells us that Jarecki is currently finishing post-production on a film called All Good Things which he co-wrote the original screenplay for and which features in some capacity Frank Langella, Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling and which has an intriguing one-line explanation. It will be interesting if with such heavyweight plot and stars Jarecki can lend the subtle touch he shows here and have faith in his audiences intellect, rather than presenting a jigsaw-puzzle style murder plot that holds your hand from beginning to inevitable capture.



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