Taking Advantage of Elders

New York Times Review

Opens on Friday, April 13, 2012 in Manhattan. For more information, click here.

Directed by Deborah Louise Robinson

1 hour 22 minutes; not rated

So your normally prudent 69-year-old mother has taken up with an unemployed salsa instructor half her age, and now he’s living in her spare room. And co-signing her checks. She seems happy, but you’re worried about his motives — not to mention your inheritance. What can you do?

Very little, according to the heartbreaking stories in “Last Will and Embezzlement,” Deborah Louise Robinson’s rudimentary yet eye-opening documentary on the growing problem of elder abuse. Narrated by the actor Artie Pasquale, owner of a don’t-mess-with-me mug and a wiseguy-loaded résumé, the film highlights criminals who exploit vulnerabilities — like early dementia, illness or isolation — and insinuate themselves into a victim’s life and finances. Sniffing around nursing homes and graveyards, these people can cause havoc within families, their acts of predation rarely reported and seldom prosecuted.

Seesawing between concerned experts and moving case histories — including an impassioned Mickey Rooney recounting years of suffering at the hands of a close family member — the film has a bare-bones look that only intensifies its nearly painful sincerity. As the horrors of reverse-mortgage scams bump up against forged bank documents and legal black holes, we are grateful for the lucid guidance of Kathleen J. Houseweart, an expert on geriatric cognitive impairment. Separating the charmingly forgetful wheat from the dangerously enfeebled chaff, she wonders at what point diminished capacity can reasonably be interpreted as bad judgment. “We have a right to make bad decisions,” she insists. Indeed we do, especially when they involve salsa instructors half our age.

Link to the New York Times review:


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