Thursday, August 5, 2010

An American Crime

An American Crime is a horrific story. It's made all the more disturbing because it's based on the true story of the Sylvia Likens murder in 1960s Indiana. I first heard of the Likens murder when I read "The Girl Next Door" by Jack Ketchum. It's a fiction book, but he used the real life murder as a basis. The true story is bad enough. An American Crime is very factual and uses actual crime photos and court testimonies.

Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page) and her sister Jenny are sent to live with Gertie (Catherine Keener) and her six children after their parents join a traveling carnival. After a rumor (that actually turns out to be true) in school about Paula, Gertie's daughter, they blame Sylvia. Gertie and the rest of the kids, including kids from around the neighborhood, horrifically abuse and torture Sylvia until her death.

At times, this movie almost seems over the top. If you didn't know it really happened, it would almost be unbelievable. Why were all these neighborhood kids so quick to join in on the abuse? Why did Jenny (Sylvia's sister) not tell anyone? Why did Sylvia never really fight back? But that's what really happened.

Although the subject matter is brutal, this film wasn't overly graphic with the material. Most of the violence is shown through reaction shots or inter cut with scenes from the trial.

I don't know why this movie isn't more known. I'm assuming it's an independent film and didn't have much funding, but it also stars some fairly big names - Ellen Page and Catherine Keener as well as Scout Taylor-Compton, James Franco, and Jeremy Sumpter. IMDb says that it was a made-for-tv film, but it has a theatrical rating, so who knows?

4.5/5 stars. This is definitely not a movie to watch over and over again though. Twice is enough for me.

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