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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Capturing the Friedmans

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Capturing the Friedmans”
Not Rated
2003

As a lamentation of Long Island life, 2003’s “Capturing the Friedmans” played like the darkest pop song Billy Joel never wrote — a documentary about criminal allegations that shredded the already tenuous seams of the Friedman family of Great Neck, N.Y.

By many early accounts, the Friedmans were normal, with peccadilloes perhaps odd to outsiders. But child-pornography charges against patriarch Arnold snowballed into suspicion he and youngest son Jesse sodomized boys in their home.

Discrepancies riddled all sides. What of Arnold and Jesse’s testimony can be believed? Did aberrant pornography in a posh neighborhood create an easy scapegoat for other kids’ problems? Was the cops’ questioning coercive? Did disbelieving family members simply have on blinders?

No more definitive were chillingly casual Friedman-filmed home videos that directly discussed the accusations. Simple Seders turned defensive, particularly for matriarch Elaine — defensive less of Arnold, but of her judgment in committing to a life with his lies.

Benefiting from this footage, director Andrew Jarecki showed the Friedmans forever defining themselves by an omniscient camera — especially Arnold, who saw video as a document of his purported progress beyond problems.

However willingly, the Friedmans squirmed under a microscope in fascinatingly — and frustratingly — inconclusive ways. The only clear answer in “Friedmans” was that they imploded under mistrust and dysfunction.

Never subjective or opportunistic, “Friedmans” hauntingly asked how far faith goes when it comes to family, how much mercy we’d grant them based merely on our memories and how forgiveness sometimes endures years of fury before it’s granted.

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9 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Capturing the Friedmans”

  1. Heroes of the zeroes capturing the friedmans.. Nice :)

  2. [...] in “Capturing the Friedmans,” Treadwell’s video camera became his confessional, and the monologues, rants and laments left [...]

  3. Let’s just say this: there are rules not only about questioning children, but about what answers can be accepted as evidence. Children are assumed to be easily swayed and unreliable. (My memories of law school can be fuzzy, but this I do remember because I thought of Capturing the Friedmans.)

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    maybe: I’d love to see a lawyer (or someone with the same basic skills, like, well, you) break down the trial in digestible terms. It’s among mine, too, and thanks for the compliment!

  5. Amazing, amazing film. Saw it while in my first year of law school and it blew my mind. I often thought about it in subsequent years when studying evidence and criminal procedure. There’s a lot that was wonky with the trial.

    Among my top 10 documentaries of the decade. Nice review, Nick!

  6. Nick Rogers says:

    I think we’re definitely talking about the same one.

  7. Joe Shearer says:

    I’m sure it’s not. There’s one in particular under "D" that I cannot wait to see on the list (it IS on the list, right?).

  8. Nick Rogers says:

    Joe: This was one on my roster of films with which to catch up before cementing the list and I’m glad I did. There has been a lot of concern about Andrew Jarecki’s involvement with the family’s legal affairs post-documentary, but, IMO, you see no bias or preference in the finished film. That said, it’s perhaps not *the* most chilling documentary that’s on this list.

  9. Joe Shearer says:

    This was a curiously affecting and moving film. I caught this movie quite by accident, and was enrapt by it. Chilling is a great word for it.