This one definitely slipped by me, I had no idea it even existed. Ellen Page stars in this film, it was released December 2007. It was directed by Tommy O’Haver and written by T. O”Haver and Irene Turner. T. O’Haver previous works includes Get Over It and Ella Enchated, he has not done much and the films he has done are not mainstream. It looks like An American Crime I think is his best work and I am surprised he has not got any more work lined up.
Going too in-depth into the story of this film will give too much away of the story. The film is filled with suspense and tension, sometimes watching this film feels horrifying. O’Haver style in this film reminds me a bit of the style used to make Funny Games directed by Michael Haneke. You never see the violents acts going on but hear the reactions and it makes you cringe almost everytime. In my opinion the style was used very well in this film, it was not better than Haneke’s but it is as equally as effective. It makes you think the scene will change but no, you have to sit and endure the sounds made. Thankfully in this film it does not last long but it still makes you feel empathy for the character. When you watch the first few minutes you immediately realise this film is a recollection of events that have occured, they are being recollected in a courtthouse.
The film layout was done in segments so, a lawyer would ask a question and then an event that occured will be shown. Although this is very easy watching, some people have said that it does not allow you to get a real connection with the characters. In my opinion I thought it was fine the way it was done, it made no difference I could still identify with all characters. This film was based on a true story, In the 50s and the 60s Sylvia Marie was tortured by Gertrude Baniszewski and her children. Sylvia’s parents were carnival workers so she they her and her sister with Mrs. Baniszweski for 3 months.
Ellen Page played Sylvie Likens I think she did a brilliant job, Ellen Page has also recently starred in Juno, Stone Angel and Smart People. I thought for 2007 this was here best performance, I felt sorry for through out the whole time. She showed true emotion and you almost thought that is the kind of emotion you would expect from this kind of victimisation. Hayley McFarland who plays Sylvia’s sister is excellent as the emotional and concerning sister. She has big eyes so the emotion pulls through very easily and you can always tell what she is feeling. The first time they are abused you can tell that she will not be able to handle the pain and ellen page’s character is more strong and hopes everyday that their pain will end.
Paula Baniszewski who is played by Ari Graynor, is a very interesting character. She is the cause of the abuse of Sylvia Likens, but I think there will be mixed opinions whether there is any empathy felt for this character. This is because although she is the cause of the abuse she wanted only revenge and her life is not the best with a boyfriend who is married and with a baby on the way. She then realises her mistake and is forced to witness the harrowing acts of her mother. Her relationship with her mother starts to detioriate and you start to feel sorry for her (but this is very late on in the film).
Gertrude Baniszewski is played by Catherine Keener who is a very successful actor, featuring in films like 40 Old Virgin, Into the Wild and Capote. She was very convincing throughout the film, the first thing you find out about her is that she likes men younger than her and has 4 children with different fathers. The family in general is not doing too good with money so she relies on her eldest daughter to bring in funds. She starts to abouse Sylvia when she finds out that Sylvia’s parents have not paid Ms. Baniszewski for looking after their children. She is then unreliably informed by her daughter that Sylvia is spreading lies, so it then continues from there and she is abused horrifically. Catherine Keener did a good job and it was important her role came across well too.
All in all i think this film is brilliant but it does challenge you emotionally and it makes you wonder. Sylvia’s torture was described by the prosecutor in Baniszewski’s trial as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana. In the film you could also tell, also for its time I think it was unheard of because the sheer torment the girl went through. Must see movie.