Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

13 June 2008

An American Crime, dir. Tommy O'Haver (2007)

NIKKI says:
This one sparked my interest because of its subject matter, and it was about a case I'd not previously heard of. The little bit I read about it, I wanted more and more to see it. Gertrude Baniszewski sounded, to me like particularly fascinating character. The case itself is horrifying, and yet Gertrude appeared to be unaware she was doing something so depraved. So, too, did the local kids (including her own kids) who assisted in torturing Sylvia Likens -- the girl Gertrude held captive in her basement for the purposes of "teaching her a lesson". That Catherine Keener and Ellen Page were the leads, I expected something really good -- introspective, scary, educational.

Instead, I got a brutal TV-ish movie, which takes the viewer through the atrocities of the crime, step by ghastly step, without ever offering any real insight into just why Gertrude acted the way she did. The film offers standard answers to the question -- it was the time, the situation (Sylvia's carny parents left Sylvia and her sister with Gertrude while they worked the carnival scene), she was wrapped up in God, she was without money, she was desperate to ensure her daughters remained pure. But how did she come to beat and abuse poor Sylvia? Why Sylvia and not her sister? Why not both? How did it come to be that Gertrude's kids abused Sylvia, too? And the neighbour kids? Who are these kids that they find nothing so bad about burning a teenager with cigarettes and whipping her? How did this go undetected for so long?

The film exists not to instruct about these things, but to show us what happened according to court transcripts. The horror of the thing is this film's main point. Or it seems to be, at least. Nothing is offered beyond a fact by fact re-enactment. And what, really, is the point of that? It could have been a 20/20 episode, for all that. The answers required here are tragically beyond this filmmaker.

I was happy to finally see Ellen Page in a different sort of role from her smarmy-teen norm. I thought she was very good here, reserved, and true to her character. It's just a pity she wasn't able to do more than scream and cry, which is all I wanted to do after watching this. If a movie is going to be this harsh, it needs some sort of balance. it needs release. This just hit us over the head with the crime and then punished the criminals. I'm not sure the real story of these two women is just so black and white.


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