DVD Review: An American Crime

This movie is based on a real case that happened in Indiana in the 1960's.  It was the first child abuse case to get real media and public attention.

Ellen Page (Juno) plays Silvia, one half of a sisterhood that is left with a stranger, essentially, while her parents travel the carnival circuit for money.  Her sister, Jenny, is also left with Gertrude Baniszewski (played by Catherine Keener), a woman that attended the same Bethany Baptist church as Silvia and Jenny. Silvia and Jenny's father meets her once, sees that she has children, and makes an arrangement for his girls to stay at the Baniszewski residence.

Trouble arises when Silvia discovers that the second-oldest daughter, Paula, has gotten pregnant by a married man.  She reveals the details, although it was supposed to be between her and Paula, to the father of the baby as he is roughing Paula up in an alley.  It saves Paula from an attack, but word spreads through school and town that Paula is a loose woman and pregnant.  Paula tells her mother (who is dating Handy, played by James Franco) that Silvia is spreading false rumors about her around town.  Gertrude decides to punish Silvia for what she feels is a horrible crime against her child.

More trouble arises when Gertrude insists that the money from Silvia's parents arrives late. She punishes Silvia relentlessly, even accusing her of stealing when Silvia makes an attempt at calling her parents with money she received for a pop bottle return.  Eventually Silvia spends most of her time in the basement of the home, trapped and physically abused to the point of torture.

This movie was moving and made me feel as if it were surreal what was happening to this young girl.  It both infuriated me and made me sad.  The abuse is hard to watch, but the movie is both intriguing and thought-provoking.

I would not recommend this movie to anyone under the age of 17.  It is Rated R by the MPAA.  Running time is an hour and thirty minutes.

 

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