Capturing the Friedmans (2003): Quick-shot review!

friedmans-2An extremely confronting documentary, Capturing the Friedmans (2003, dir. Andrew Jarecki) focuses on a normal family that becomes a media sensation as a father and son are accused of heinous crimes against children. Family patriarch Arnold Friedman was a popular community figure and science teacher when, on the day of Thanksgiving 1987, he was busted for possession of child pornography. After this initial discovery, this criminal charge expanded to include the sexual assault of numerous children, who attended computer classes at his home. His son Jesse was later charged as an additional perpetrator of the assaults. However, both insist that such assaults never occurred. Capturing the Friedmans explores the facts and ambiguities around this case, and the impact that the criminal investigation had upon the family.

Similar to other true crime documentaries, such as The Thin Blue Line (1988), Capturing the Friedmans communicates very clearly the difficulties that are involved with incredibly complex criminal cases. It tells the story of the Friedman family in an approachable and understandable way, through the use of lots of home video footage and talking head interviews which narrate them. At times it almost feels voyeuristic because the home videos involve very personal moments and arguments between the family members, for example, when all the Friedman sons begin picking on their mother and accusing her of never caring for them. The storytelling in this film is extremely sound and totally engaging, and it is supremely interesting to see what happens to each of the family members involved. But at the same time, there isn’t a film where you’ll want to look away more.

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It must be noted that this film puts its viewers in a really horrible and disgusting headspace, as it does focus on two individuals who were convicted of numerous and repetitive sexual assaults against children. For people who might be triggered by themes of child abuse and sexual assault, this definitely isn’t a safe film to watch. At times there are graphic descriptions of the types of abuses perpetrated against children, and it is just generally very difficult to listen to. I have worked extensively with children who have suffered sexual abuse and trauma, and even with this background it was difficult to watch and listen to certain scenes. So please beware!

Even though I really hated watching this film due to its often reprehensible content, it is technically a really excellent documentary. It deftly illustrates the complex issues and blurring of the lines around certain criminal cases, and also illustrates the hysteria of the public’s responses to public court cases, particularly where child sexual assault is involved. The use of music and intercutting of vignettes of suburban life were both top notch. Overall, this is an effective documentary because it provides an interesting insight into a clearly complex case, and a voyeuristic view of a family’s collapse. It’s a great film, but I would never want to watch it ever again!

4/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film on Amazon!

15 comments

  1. Yeah, very difficult movie to watch but like you say a very well made documentary. Wasn’t this the one where they were actually making a documentary about clowns in New York and they kind of found out about this story?

    1. Yeah, this is the one! I love how the film starts with that brother who works as a professional clown essentially saying, “You really don’t want to know about my family situation”, and that’s the exact time when the director finds out about the whole story. Crazy stuff, and a huge coincidence. It’s important to tell stories like this though, even if they are really difficult to watch.

      1. Exactly. Have you seen Dear Zachary? Also an example (although entirely different) of one that’s very difficult to watch. To me it is one of the best documentaries ever made (and if you haven’t seen it don’t read up on it and simply watch it).

        1. I’ve never seen Dear Zachary, but now I’m definitely intrigued. I’ll make sure I don’t read anything about it before I see it!

  2. I would like to see this, but I can’t imagine I would see it twice!

    1. No way! Once is enough, some parts are just too confronting. But it still was a really interesting story!

  3. Some pretty messed-up stuff here, but so worth thinking about. Especially when you have a family of your own. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 This would be such a confronting film to watch if you have kids. Very tough content indeed!

  4. Great review Anna! One of the hardest films I’ve ever watched, purely because of how it tackles the subject matter in such an unflinching way. One of the best documentaries ever made, but never again.

    1. Thanks Jim! 🙂 Once is enough when it comes to films as brutally honest as this one!

  5. Eek, this sounds too tough for my skin. I’ve fortunately not been anywhere near a situation like this or know people who have but these kinds of subjects really set me off anyway. Might be best for me to avoid for my own heart health reasons!

    1. It’s definitely a test of exactly how much stress you want to put yourself under!!

  6. This certainly did cover tough subject matter, but it did an amazing job. In some ways, the story is still unfolding, too. Here are some interesting follow-up articles:

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/capturing-friedmans-convicted-child-molester-fighting-clear/story?id=19895560

    http://variety.com/2014/film/news/capturing-the-friedmans-subject-seeks-to-overturn-1988-conviction-1201245697/

    1. I didn’t realise there were still ongoing developments to the story! Interesting stuff, thanks for the links!

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