I must have missed this movie in 2007, but I do not know how. Maybe I was actually afraid to check it out since it’s a bit difficult to watch. But that difficulty comes from the horrible story of abuse, torture, neglect, and many more things that happen, now even in greater numbers than in 1965, when actual events took place. And speaking of missing things, I also missed another movie about these events released the same fucking year. It’s called The Girl Next Door, not to be confused with the romantic comedy of the same name from 2004 starring Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. Although you are going to need something to take the edge off after watching this double feature. An American Crime is listed as a drama but it could easily be a horror movie. Just a friendly heads up.
The director, Tommy O’Haver, decided to go with the side-by-side style of storytelling, where we can follow events that lead to the trial and the trial itself. The acting was phenomenal, and right from the start, you could see that Ellen Page is going to be a great actress. Catherine Keener was also excellent, but we are used to her impeccable style of acting and talent. And a little note here, the real Gertie was truly scary, so I think that they should have cast someone scarier. Or maybe that’s because I have a crush on Mr. Keener.
Betty and Lester Likens work in a carnival, and they have to travel a lot, and with two young daughters, this proves to be a difficult task. After accidentally meeting with Mrs. Gertrude Baniszewski who already has six children in her house they decide to leave their two daughters, Sylvia and Jennie to her to take care of them (not take care take care, but take care, and what she actually did was something far more different). Gertrude, who’s struggling to make ends meet, takes them for 20$ a week. In the beginning, everything seemed pretty much normal, but soon enough things will start to take a more sinister look.
The story is even more compelling if you know that is based on true events. And not loosely based, but even toned-down for this movie, and if you are interested in monstrosities of this case check out the link below. I usually end with enjoy, but this can hardly be said here, we can only watch and try to learn something from this (although I had very different feelings, mostly violent towards Gertie and the rest of them).
Child abuse is one of those things that simply should not happen. And yet it does. And if it’s already happening then we should talk about it and go past the usual just kill or torture the monsters that commit such acts. We have to try and figure out why they act in such a horrible way. I loved how this movie didn’t opt-out for some flashy cinematography but opted for a more natural and ordinary look. Like something that could be happening next door. It’s important to fully acknowledge the world around us. With all its faults and horrors. And persons. And not to be enclosed in this bubble of “safe spaces and movies” because we’re all living together and share the responsibility for the society we have formed.
Director: Tommy O’Haver
Cast: Ellen Page, Catherine Keener, Hayley McFarland, Nick Searcy, Ari Graynor, Scout Taylor-Compton
Fun Facts: Ellen Page literally starved herself for her role as Sylvia. When director Tommy O’Haver noticed she was looking thinner, he asked her if she was eating and she replied “No, because Sylvia wasn’t being fed.”