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2004 Mini Reviews

REVIEW: Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Capturing the Friedmans
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Running Time: 107 Minutes

The Friedmans were a normal, tight knit family living in suburban New York. Or were they? Andrew Jarecki's film begins by showing several pleasant images and videos from their private collection. We see them having fun together, celebrating and just being together. At first glance, they appear to be fine, but as the film progresses, we see that they aren't quite fine at all. Instead they appear to be a little disfunctional, or maybe even a little criminal.

This documentary is about the father, Arnold Friedman, and his youngest son, Jessie Friedman, and the criminal accusations leveled against them. Instead of focusing solely on the case against them, Jarecki spends some time observing (or developing) the family, and shows what impact the accusations have on their lives together. We watch the family dynamic tear apart, and he plants the seed that bad things happen to good people.

Capturing the Friedmans is a documentary, but narratively it resembles an entertaining feature film. The characters are developed gradually, while relevatory events and key pieces of evidence are carefully place so that they will have the strongest emotional impact on the viewer. As an entertaining story, Capturing the Friedmans succeeds admirably.

Unlike many other crime documentaries, Jarecki does not come out on either side, guilt or innocence. Instead he seems to provide evidence that supports as well as casts doubt upon both sides of the story. By doing this, he lets the viewer decide. In this way, the film resembles old mysteries that don't reveal their secrets until the very end, only Capturing the Friedmans doesn't provide the final payoff.

The presentation makes the film more entertaining, but it also makes it a failure as a documentary. Jarecki is so careful to remain unbiased that the story itself lacks proper detail. At the end, we just don't know enough about the case , which makes the film seem incomplete and slightly unfulfilling. We want to know more.

Capturing the Friedmans is an easy film to watch, but don't expect anything lasting that you will revisit over time.

Score: 7/10