Capturing the Friedmans (2003)


Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone:1/2 TV Guide:1/2

Warning, major plot points revealed!

Capturing the Friedmans was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2003.  It is a fascinating documentary that never provides any final verdict as to the guilt or innocence of it's subjects.  Viewers are invited to make their own decisions and come to their own judgments about what went on in the Friedman household.  The only fact that is undisputed is that in November of 1987, the police raided the Friedman home and found the father Arnold, a popular high school science teacher and private computer class instructor, in possession of child pornography of the "man on boy" variety.  

As a result of his arrest, Arnold was tried and found guilty of molesting and raping countless boys in the basement of his home with the help of his youngest son Jesse.  He was imprisoned and ultimately committed suicide while in jail.  Jesse was also convicted and given a 20 year sentence.  

From this point on I will be writing my opinion based on the material presented in the film.  It may or may not be the judgment that you come to from the same evidence.  Do not even read the rest of this review if you want to watch the film with a fresh perspective.

Arnold's possession of these child porn magazines is the only crime that anyone in the Friedman family ever committed.  The film documents in shocking intimacy how this family was completely wronged by the people of Great Neck, Long Island and utterly destroyed by the legal institutions of the State of New York.  It was a travesty of justice and an abomination of legal authority.  Basically the State of New York:

  1. Executed a man for owning a small stash if illegal porn.
  2. Wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years his youngest son (who was guilty of absolutely nothing.)
  3. Brought shame, despair and grief upon the remaining family members.
  4. Brainwashed and terrorized all of the children of the Great Neck community into thinking they had been anally raped, forced to give and receive fellatio and unwillingly participated in other sexually deviant outrageously ludicrous atrocities.

Capturing the Friedmans offers a front row seat to witness our State government sadistically prey upon it's own citizens without cause or evidence. 

One of the most revealing and fascinating aspects of the film is the bizarre footage captured by eldest son David who for some reason video taped the family during intensely private discussions and at odd personal moments and gatherings.  It's like raw footage of reality TV.  

Incidentally, David has made a career of being a children's party clown which only exacerbates the suspicion cast upon his father and youngest brother.  It does seem an odd choice for someone with his family history but there is never any implication that David was victimized by his fathers fetish.  

Middle brother Seth did not participate in the film and is only seen in family footage.

Youngest brother Jesse ends up spending the better part of his life in prison as a pedophile rapist because his horrible lawyer was too cowardly to take a stand against the public decried and State sponsored crucifixion of his client.  This lawyer who betrayed him, the prosecutor and detectives who encouraged, hypnotized and coached perjury and false testimony of the "victims,"  the parents of said "victims" who howled for Jesse's blood, and the State of New York should all be sued by Jesse for wrongful imprisonment.  He should be awarded millions of dollars in exchange for the lives both he and his now dead father have lost.

The mother, Elaine, is also a coward.  Unlike most mothers, she is so "shocked" by the allegations against her family that she distances herself from all of them and defends none.  The sons are immediately aware of her callous betrayal and side with Arnold and Jesse.  Most offensive is her fake befuddlement and insincere obliviousness.  She is a sympathetic character only if you believe that a woman who lived in the same house with her three sons and husband was completely unmindful of every aspect of their lives.

Capturing the Friedmans is a cautionary tale of unchecked government power and how public media-induced hysteria can drive it to dangerous and irrevocable conclusions.