An American Crime
(R, 1:37:31, Released 2007)
|Release Date:||Aug 17, 2007|
|DVD Release Date:||Aug 19, 2008|
|Starring:||Catherine Keener, Ellen Page, James Franco, Bradley Whitford, Ari Graynor, Nick Searcy, Michael O'Keefe, Romy Rosemont, Jeremy Sumpter, Evan Peters|
|Directed by:||Tommy O'Haver|
|Synopsis:||The true story of a young girl held captive by her insane caretaker comes to life in this disturbing film from Ella Enchanted director Tommy O'Haver. Hard Candy's Ellen Page stars as Sylvia Likens a teenager who, along with her sister, is left to live temporarily with seemigly-mild-mannered housewife Gertrude Baniszewski, played by Catherine Keener. Unfortunately for Sylvia, Gertrude soon snaps and holds her hostage in harsh conditions until the former's eventual death. Bradley Whitford costars as the prosecutor tasked with trying the case against Baniszewski. ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi|
|Full movie details|
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Other Top Reviews
December 25, 2011
Based on a true story from the 1960s this film tells the tragic tale of a young girl being tortured and held captive by a family for a months. Setting the court hearings as the frame for the reconstruction of the terrible events the film does never show the cruel details of young Sylvia's misery, which doesn't lessen the more and more disturbing and gloomy impact on the viewer. The main perpetrator, Catherine Keener as a mother who's in over her head with six kids and no money, does not start out as a bad person, just someone who is slowly losing control over her life and her kid's future. How things could go so dire so quickly remains somewhat unexplained, which only increases the horror. Much scarier than the mum's horrible actions are all the people looking the other way or joining in because they are told to. The acting is accordingly intense. Only the dream sequence towards the end aims for cheap horror thrills and doesn't do justice to the film and the case. No fun film my any means, but a gloomy yet somewhat superficial look at the unexpected horrors behind family doors. For evil to succeed all it takes is good to look the other way.
July 9, 2011
Being always curious to watch movies based on true story, it was but obvious that I was compelled to watch this movie. I read a part of the plot and then decided to go for it to know what happened to that girl (Sylvia Likens), why she suffered, how much and how long. Of course, this wasn't a documentary, so I didn't expect the exact depiction of the real life story. Yet it provided a generous amount of info, including a part of court transcriptions, about this tragic event.
R.I.P. Sylvia Likens & R.I.H. all those who tortured her.
[R.I.H. = Rot In Hell (just made it out; ain't sure whether such abbreviation exists currently.)]
November 18, 2010
I think the most interesting thing about this film is the title. I think about the juxtaposition of two disparate ideas: first, America is a country that prides itself on its celebration of rugged individualism, and many of the stories (true and apocryphal) about its foundation debate the relationship between the individual and the state (yes: Glenn Beck has no original ideas; everything he says has been said since the time of America's founding). Second, the "American" crime depicted in this film is the direct result of groupthink and mob mentality, essentially the surrender of individual morality and thought to that of a group. So by calling the abuse of Sylvia Likens a typically American event, is the film denying one of America's definitive stories? I would find this remarkably interesting, and combined with the remarkable performance by Catherine Keener, a consistent thesis along those lines would make an intelligent, engaging film. But there is a key scene toward the end - a narrative trick that's supposed to be clever and effective (it isn't) - that denies the thesis: a key character, who demonstrates pathetic gullibility and performs one of the most despicable acts of abuse, undergoes a dramatic reversal and thinks for himself. But this moment of self-determination is only part of a trick, and we later discover it didn't even happen. The film thus sacrifices consistency of message at the altar of thinking itself cool.
Also, I was disappointed in Page's performance. She was remarkably convincing and heart-rending during the torture sequences, but her pre-tortured Sylvia is a bland, ever-smiling mask. As I said earlier, Keener is amazing. She finds humanity in Gertrude's moments of abuse that a lesser actor would've played in a sadistic impersonation of Hannibal Lecter.
Overall, An American Crime is a disappointment because it fails to understand its own content.
August 10, 2010
I heard about this crime years ago and it pulled me in. When I first read about it I couldn't stop thinking how horrible it was. Back then it was the worst case of child abuse I've ever read about. It wasn't until recently that I read something even more horrifying, and that was only because it was over a span of 15 years, where as the Sylvia Likens case lasted 3 months. The 15 year case had this father keep his daughter hostage in a closet where he constantly impregnated her. Even though the Sylvia Likens was still a tough read.
About the case:
"Baniszewski, described by the Indianapolis Star as a "haggard, underweight asthmatic" suffering from depression and the stress of several failed marriages, began taking her anger out on the Likens girls, beating them with paddles after payments from their parents failed to arrive on time.
Soon, Baniszewski focused her abuse on Sylvia; accusing her of stealing candy that she had bought from a grocery store, and humiliating her when she admitted that she had once had a boyfriend. She kicked Likens in the genitals and accused her of being pregnant. Paula Baniszewski, who actually was pregnant at the time, became enraged and knocked Likens onto the floor. Likens became convinced that she was pregnant, although medical examination proved that she was not and could not have been.
Likens was then falsely accused of spreading rumors through Arsenal Technical High School that Stephanie and Paula were prostitutes. That supposedly provoked Stephanie's boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, to physically attack Likens. Mrs. Baniszewski encouraged Hubbard and other neighborhood children to torment Likens, including, among other things, putting cigarettes out on her skin and forcing her to remove her clothes and insert a glass Coca-Cola bottle into her vagina on at least two occasions.
After beating Sylvia to get her to admit to stealing from school a gym suit which Baniszewski would not buy for her, and without which she was unable to attend gym class, Baniszewski kept her out of school and did not allow her to leave the house. When Likens urinated in her bed, a situation likely caused by damage done to her kidneys by the severe beatings administered by Baniszewski and her children, she was locked in the cellar and forbidden to use the toilet. Later, she was forced to consume faeces and urine. Shortly before Sylvia died, Baniszewski began to carve the words "I'm a prostitute and proud of it!" into Sylvia's stomach with a heated needle, although Richard Hobbs finished the carving when Baniszewski was unable to do so. Hobbs, with the help of 10-year old Shirley Baniszewski, also used a heated eye bolt to burn the number "3" into Sylvia's chest.
Likens attempted to escape a few days before her death after overhearing Baniszewski's plan to have her dumped in a wooded area nearby, but was caught by Baniszewski as she reached the front door. As punishment, she was tied in the basement and given only crackers to eat. On October 26, 1965, after multiple beatings, burnings, and scalding baths, she died of a brain hemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition.
When Stephanie Baniszewski and Richard Hobbs realized that Sylvia was not breathing, Stephanie attempted to give Sylvia mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before realizing that it was hopeless and that Sylvia was dead."
American Crime is a TV movie, and it sure as hell feels like one. It's not as disturbing as the actual case, and it doesn't capture all the horrors that went on in that house, but it's still a detailed movie (for a full account you should read about the case on trutv.com). Ellen Page (star of Juno) plays Sylvia, and does a great job, but the best performance here is by Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin) who plays Gertrude Baniszewski, the highly disturbed and emotionally unstable mother behind the horrific crimes. Keener was even nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance. I'm surprised the movie itself wasn't nominated because it was that good. It's a great film. For those who are easily weak stomached, not to worry. The film doesn't go into graphic detail - everything is suggested and left to the mind. But then again, those with vivid imaginations may recreate the crime scene in all it's gory depravities. For a film that's not so graphic it sure sticks with you long after you've seen it. You won't be able to shake this one off so quickly. It's a film that everyone should see. I highly recommend it.
March 14, 2010
An American Crime paints a portrait of real-life events involving the sadistic torture of a 16-year old high school girl at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener) and her children. The Likens family travel from town to town, working for the carnival. Their children, Sylvia (Ellen Page) and Jennie (Hayley McFarland) want to stay put for once and make friend with kids and basically live like normal children. The father also feels (for whatever reason) that the girls are putting a strain on the marriage, so when Gertie offers to keep the kids for $20 a week room and board, the Likens take her up on her offer. It seems like an amiable plan, as Gertie has six children of her own, and the experience of a big family could be fun for the girls. Gertie however, is involved in an abusive relationship with a much younger man (James Franco), and seems to be slowly cracking under the mental stress of trying to raise six children with very little income. The impetus for her breakdown comes when one of her older daughters becomes pregnant by a married man. Sylvia tells the man of the girl's condition and one of her classmates overheard. The daughter gets revenge for this by telling her mother Sylvia has been spreading lies about her. The abuse starts off simply but quickly escalates to dramatic levels. What's truly horrifying about this film isn't the abuse by the mentally unbalanced mother, but by her children. Much like a demented Charles Manson, she's able to convince those around her to carry out the most sadistic acts. But unlike Manson, the ones she manipulates are just children (and here's where takes an interesting twist). We in the audience feel anger towards these children and through our sense of justice desire their punishment, and yet where do we draw the line? And it would be one thing if it were only her children who were the sadistic ones, but the fact that the other neighborhood children also participate shifts the blame to our society as a whole (hence, the title "An American Crime"). If children brought up in good wholesome homes can be convinced to do cruel things to innocent people, if children are unable to tell the difference between proper "punishment" and vile torture, then where do we draw the line? Even more cleverly, the film-maker places the audience in the same position as the guilty children, we're the observers unable or unwilling to stop the crime we're witnessing. In a world of tabloid sleeze here we get our cheap, voyeuristic thrills as the seedy details of sexually perverse crimes get made public, it's only just that we get some of the blame. What really gets driven home by this movie is the notion that victim or torturer, either one could be your child. All it takes is the word of a trusted adult, and the blind eye of society's turned head.
September 1, 2009
This is the most disturbing performance I have seen from Catherine Keener. Fans of hers are not going to like her very much in this movie. It is very different from any role I have ever seen her in.
Ellen Page, wow. What a performance this girl gives in this movie. She was amazing to say the lease. She is really showing her fans and the viewer's just what she is capable of with her acting skills. She is going to go far.
Whats more disturbing then this movie even being thought of to be made, is the fact that it is based on a true story. How horrific. I remember reading about all the controversy coming from the critics about the daring performances Catherine and Ellen gave. Now after seeing it I know why.
Two sisters (Sylvia Likens and Jennie Likens) find themselves on the road living between their parents. Their parents are carnival workers. Both of their parents are going on tour with the carnival, so they decide to leave their daughters in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Gertrude's daughters are friends with the Likens sisters from church. Gertrude has a house full of kids as it is when she takes on the Likens sisters.
Gertrude has a lot of financial problems and that is why she decides to let the girls stay with her, so she can collect a weekly check from their parents for keeping them. Things turn for the worse when Gertrude becomes angry when she doesn't receive her weekly check from the girl's father. She then goes on to punish the girls by whipping them with a belt. She does end up receiving a check not long after, with an apology note for it being late. She never tells the girls though.
Gertrude takes out a lot of her frustration and anger on Sylvia Likens. She even has her children join in on the beatings, which is really upsetting. Just knowing that this is based on a true story and that there is someone out there like this, and that these events happened to these two young girls just sickens me. It's not an easy movie to watch, but is well worth it to see Catherine and Ellen's performances which are amazing. This a movie you definitely will remember whether you want to or not. The performances are that strong.
October 28, 2008
Very memorable roles for Ellen page and Catherine Keener that will be difficult to shake in the midst of any future movie roles. The other actors also did well. Overall, a very powerful and disturbing movie.
As another reviewer pointed out though, the music didn't make much sense; the movie didn't really need it, and it was indeed distracting. And the same can be said for the editing effects. The narrative storytelling, meanwhile, was interesting; but, like the music, it didn't quite work out in the end. And while the movie stayed pretty true to reality, the facts that were changed didn't really add to the story ; the subtracted facts of the torture were probably wise though. It was disturbing enough as it was in film form.
October 26, 2008
AN AMERICAN CRIME had all the elements to be a powerful drama. Its torture scenes are still very hard to watch, but you stop caring about them as soon as they're over. The movie does not possess the "haunting"quality a film of this kind should have. It's absolutely forgettable, and besides, in this kind of film, you're supposed to identify with a character (preferably the "good" one), but it's so difficult with AN AMERICAN CRIME since everyone is so damn stupid (or a crazy bitch). The direction doesn't work very well; the story is told in a very superficial way. The performances were irrelevant, especially those by the kids/teens, and Ellen Page didn't impress me much, which supports my belief that she's one of the most overrated actresses working today. Catherine Keener was good, but I expected more from her. Nice cinematography.
September 19, 2008
Powerful! This movie made me sooo mad!!! But, so good! I hate that bitch!!
May 5, 2008
This a moving and well made film which tell the story about the torture of a young 16 year old in 1966. This a actully based on a true story which make it more unbelieveable. The story as been turned into another film recently called "the girl next door" which some of the story had been changed. I would recommand watching both as they are both excellant films,hard to watch in some places but moving or the some.
fb1350754613July 4, 2013
Ellen Page is great, and Catherine Keener does alright, but she just doesn't fit the role of someone so abusive. It's a relatively harsh and emotional story, but with that being said, not much can be made of it other than "abuse is bad", which is common sense. It's not a well-written movie. It's obvious that the writer figured the true events themselves would be good enough for viewers, but sometimes you need to bend the truth a little to accomodate proper film values, and An American Crime seems to ignore those values.
April 27, 2009
[font=Century Gothic]Told mostly through flashbacks, "An American Crime" is set in Indianapolis in 1965. Lester (Nick Searcy) wants his ex-wife Betty(Romy Rosemont) to work with him on the carny circuit but they have noone to take care of their daughters Sylvia(Ellen Page) and Jennie(Haley McFarland). An opportunity presents itself through a chance meeting at a local church where Lester arranges with Gertrude (Catherine Keener, who is superb) to take care of them for $20 a week. But Gertrude only takes them in since she needs the money so badly. She is already overwhelmed by the six children she already has. Her eldest Paula(Ari Graynor) is involved with an older man, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. That news spreads like wildfire through her high school. Through no fault of her own, Sylvia is accused of lying and is punished.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Based on a true story, "An American Crime" is a disturbing story of snowballing events, leading to a horrific crime. The movie is anti-nostalgic, being set at a time when people trusted each, minded their own business and doors were left unlocked, although not the basements. It would be wrong to say these were more innocent times because sex was rampant but very little love. Adversely affecting the women's lives was the lack of and access to birth control. It is possible that Getrude might have been a decent person at one point but by now she is so protective of her children, she lives in denial and takes it out on Sylvia who might be the only truly good person in the movie.(Whereas everybody seeks to torment the weaker, Sylvia protects her younger sister who has polio.) And Getrude's children learn their behavior from her at a time when corporal punishment was rampant and Vietnam is on the nightly news. [/font]
fb796967648March 31, 2009
For everyone who thinks Ellen Page can only do the snarky Juno thing, or that Catherine Keener is really only the chilly shell from indies, this unsung horror house of a based-on-a-true-story film turns all that around. The almost unwatchably awful tale of a girl turned into foster care under the control of a torturer, this is worth every terrible cringe-inducing moment (and there are plenty). Wow.
fb1144932598October 25, 2008
This was extremely hard to watch as Gertrude (Catherine Keener) perpetrated horrible abuse on the young, innocent boarder, Sylvia (Ellen Page). The narrative is driven by scenes from the trial with flashbacks to the abuse that were graphic enough that this viewer had to pause it to regain composure more than once. Bradley Whitford, as prosecutor Leroy New, served as the narrator, and was a little less passionate than this tragedy cried out for, but also served as the voice of reason. Sad to think that in a time when small town neighbors knew your business that this torture was allowed to continue unchecked until it was too late for Sylvia. Suberb acting by all. Even the supporting cast of children hit their marks superbly. Keener played the psychotic sadist with a detached intensity that was chilling. Ms. Page looked a little young for sixteen, but brought the required meekness and innocence to her role. A definite cautionary tale and another meaty role for Ms. Page who is fast becoming another of my favorite actors. This one will haunt.
September 29, 2013
In 1965, Gertrude Baniszewski, a single mother of six was asked to watch a friend children for the summer. Needing the money, Baniszewski, a mentally unstable woman, agreed but quickly decided that one of the girls, Sylvia, was a bad influence on her family. She locked Sylvia in the basement and for weeks allowed her kids and their friends to beat and rape the girl, until she finally died a month later. Baniszewski was convicted of murder and sentenced to life, but only served 14 years before being paroled. The details of the story were vividly described in Jack Ketchum's novel, The Girl Next Door, which was turned into a movie, in 2007. The film depiction of the book was wildly inaccurate and to be honest, just plain bad. Shortly after, another film was made, An American Crime. This film focuses on the case and tells the story through testimonial flashbacks, that are taken directly from the trial transcripts. This film was much better than The Girl Next Door was. As someone who has read the book and is familiar with the story, I can tell you, it was much more accurate. The story is well known and the film didn't offer up any surprises for me. The most interesting aspect for me was the cast. An American Crime features a ton of young Hollywood talent, most of whom got their big break in this film, and went on to bigger and better things. The film features the likes of Ellen Page, James Franco, Jeremy Sumpter, Evan Peters, Michael Welch, and a ton of other people who went on to much bigger roles. What was really interesting was seeing all this talent right at the very start of their careers. Knowing the details and knowing what was going to happen, I focused more on the performances than the film. Catherine Keener plays Gertrude and how she didn't win an award for the portrayal is beyond me. Keener was terrific in a very difficult role. She was probably one of the only people who could have pulled it off. Sylvia was played by Ellen Page, who of course later went on to become Juno. She was equally good, especially when you consider that she'd done almost nothing prior to taking this role. The story told in An American Crime is not for those with a weak stomach, it is violent and unbelievable, but it happened, and I'm glad that a second filmmaker took on the task of honoring Sylvia's memory by telling her story accurately, while at the same time giving a young cast the chance to prove themselves.
November 29, 2010
If I were to base seeing An American Crime on the Tomatometer, well I simply wouldn't have seen it. This film is much better than given credit for. It is a true story of imprisonment and torture of a young girl in the 1960s.
The performances here are outstanding. Ellen Page gives a brutally good performance and Catherine Keener steals the show with her truthful performance. An American Crime is set in the 1960s and it's evident that it is from the look to the carelessness compared to today. Their take on the 1960s is a strong point in An American Crime.
The story is well-structured. It takes place in a courtroom but the movie itself is a retelling of what had occurred through the witnesses. I never found myself bored, even in the beginning, and it only ratcheted up until the conclusion. When finally I thought that these filmmakers messed up some where, they take the audience by surprise and completely trick us. I found it brilliant.
Another film, "The Girl Next Door", is also based on the same incident and was also released in 2007. While it is a good film in its own merit, "The Girl Next Door" is much more of a horror-type film where the idea was taken simply to make a disturbing film where as An American Crime feels like a much more professional and serious effort.
An American Crime is a must see. It has all the qualities of a fantastic film and is a flawless one at that. Forget what the some critics may tell you, and check this one out. However you may feel about An American Crime in the end, you will undeniably have seen a unique, underappreciated gut-wrenching masterpiece.
January 18, 2011
Unsettling to the extent that it is alienating in many ways, but in my mind very effective. A cruelly violent film, but a film with purpose. Ellen Page and Catherine Keener are outstanding.
May 5, 2010
A horrific tale of abuse perpetrated on Ellen Page as Sylvia Likens at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski, her six children, classmates and neighbors. This was not an easy picture to watch. It gives me the chills and makes my skin crawl to actually think that this is based on a true story. Forget horror movies, I know this one will keep me up at nights now. I can't seem to get these sick images out of my mind now.
July 16, 2011
I don't know if I would say this is a great movie, but it does show a horrific true story - you just really can't stop watching even if you want to...
October 7, 2010
This movie was extremely horrifying and saddening. However, it was very good. Page was amazing in her role, as usual, and Keener was very good too (even though I hated her character because she was so evil!). I had no idea the ending would turn out the way it did, as I had never heard of the story until watching the movie.
June 30, 2010
I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. "An American Crime" tells the story of one of the most disturbingly shocking crimes ever committed. The film adds some insight and sparks of innovative interpretation but not much. The movie basically bombards you with the injustices of the crime without much comfort, yet it is very well made. The lead roles (Page and Keener) do excellent jobs at portraying the characters, especially Ellen Page who gave a heartbreaking performance as the tragic victim ='(. The film also successfully portrays the psychological complexity of the crime as well as a "Lord of the Flies" effect on the minor characters. In the end you may be loving the movie for its brutally honest portrayal of the crime, yet upset that it tossed you into a very deep hole and doesn't do much to comfort you.
March 5, 2010
Pretty close to the truth, I guess, and well played, but seeing in parallel the testimonies and the events was somehow annoying (as we couldn't understand if we didn't hear some things with our own ears).
August 10, 2009
Now, people... this is one painful blow of a film. An American Crime is a disquieting depiction of a horrifying case of child abuse-- it is one that provides no facile answers, but raises troubling questions by setting us in an era where children couldn't speak for themselves, and most importantly, were obligated to side with whoever had the upper hand. It's a very tough watch, one that prevents any kind of enjoyment due to the deathly perfume of its inevitably fatal conclusion, but the impact it has makes it well worth watching.
Tommy O'Haver's camera refuses to sand off the edges of the atrocious case, but it is never exploitative or distasteful. He does make the most authentic-looking story possible out of a seemingly limited budget. Most importantly, his stage direction captures the force of two reliably effective actresses, here completely inhabiting roles that are miles away from their typical on-screen personas. Keener is nightmarish as Baniszewski, letting us understand the excruciating weight of her everyday life without ever excusing through self-pity the torturous acts she commits. Page offers a portrait of torn-down innocence that rings absolutely true, even if Sylvia Likens is a thin character on paper here. They are surrounded by equally impressive young performers, Graynor being a notable standout. The cast provide the backbone to a gripping, surprisingly textured T.V. movie that's the very opposite of a crowd-pleaser, but should provide worthwhile discussions afterwards. The only major thing I can put against it is a sort-of manipulative third-act fakeout, but it isn't enough to strip this true story of its chilling effectiveness.
June 15, 2009
Omg. So disturbing but good. I expected better but it still stays with you,
May 18, 2009
I got soooo angry in the movie....i wanted to kill that mother!!!!