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An American Crime

An American Crime (2007)


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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 2
Fresh: 0 | Rotten: 2



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Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 11,185

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Movie Info

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



Aug 19, 2008

First Look Studios

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January 30, 2007:
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Ah, MySpace. Electronic land of underage networking, life-affirming friend counts, and...major...
January 21, 2007:
Sundance Reviews: "American Crime" Is Painful, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" Is Haunting
Here are some short reviews of "An American Crime," starring Catherine Keener and Ellen...


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All Critics (14) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (3) | Rotten (10) | DVD (2)

Tragic tale of child abuse fails to make any sense of the crime.

January 19, 2007 | Comment (1)
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Not even the considerable talents of lead thesps Catherine Keener and Ellen Page can alleviate the artistic nullity that is An American Crime.

January 18, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety | Comments (3)
Top Critic IconTop Critic

By instead focusing more on the character of Gertrude Baniszewski, the film relegates Sylvia Likens to a cypher with no real identity - she's simply a vessel for abuse.

September 2, 2010 Full Review Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune | Comment (1)
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Um projeto que encara a desgraša alheia como mero trampolim para o entretenimento.

August 22, 2008 Full Review Source: Cinema em Cena
Cinema em Cena

If Eli Roth were to direct a Lifetime movie, it might look something like An American Crime.

August 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

i katalytika akadimaiki eksistorisi toy, poy problimatizei me tin idiazoysa sadistiki tis hroia stin parathesi sokaristikon skinon bias dihos peraitero diereynisi toys, afinei to myalo soy na kykloforei kai na kanei syndeseis mono toy, me ton idio tropo p

May 16, 2008 Full Review Source: Movies for the Masses
Movies for the Masses

Gut wrenching performances, a well structured narrative, and a great cast makes "An American Crime" one of the finer movies to depict one of the most gruesome travesties of the twentieth century...

April 24, 2008 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed
Cinema Crazed

A misfire and the most problematic film at Sundance, this fact-based tale of child abuse is disturbing, appalling, and voyeuristic due to poor conception and execution by writer-director O'Haver who ironically has been wanting to make it for 20 years.

March 22, 2007 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

What purpose does this film serve? I have watched it, and I have contemplated it, and I can come up with no good reason for it to exist.

February 18, 2007 Full Review Source: | Comments (4)

(Catherine) Keener, always a versatile actress, takes on the challenge of portraying perhaps one of the most unlikable villains in the history of true crime, and tries to find the humanity buried somewhere within her.

February 9, 2007 Full Review Source: Cinematical

The real high point of this film is Catherine Keener's captivating performance in the role of the troubled and possessive Gertie, vacillating between disturbingly abusive and imploringly sympathetic the way only a truly manipulative psychopath really can.

January 27, 2007 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

Audience Reviews for An American Crime

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.
December 25, 2011

Super Reviewer

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.)]
July 9, 2011

Super Reviewer

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.
November 18, 2010
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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