An American CrimeDecember 7, 2007
The true story of suburban housewife Gertrude Baniszewski, who kept a teenage girl locked in the basement of her Indiana home during the 1960s.
Release Year: 2007
Rating: 7.3/10 (12,535 voted)
Stars: Ellen Page, Hayley McFarland, Nick Searcy
Based on a true story that shocked the nation in 1965, the film recounts one of the most shocking crimes ever committed against a single victim. Sylvia and Jennie Fae Likens, the two daughters of traveling carnival workers are left for an extended stay at the Indianapolis (3850 E. New York St. is hardly suburban, nor was it in 1965, by any stretch of the imagination.) home of single mother Gertrude Baniszewski and her six children. Times are tough, and Gertrude's financial needs cause her to make this arrangement before realizing how the burden will push her unstable nature to a breaking point. What transpires in the next three months is both riveting and horrific, leaving one child dead and the rest scarred for life.
Writers: Tommy O'Haver, Irene Turner
(as Hannah Leigh Dworkin)
Reverend Bill Collier
The true story of a shocking crime and a secret that wouldn't keep.
Release Date: 7 December 2007
Filming Locations: Los Angeles, California, USA
Box Office Details
Did You Know?
Ellen Page literally starved herself for her role as Sylvia. When director Tommy O'Haver noticed she was looking thinner, he asked her if she was eating and she replied "No, because Sylvia wasn't being fed."
A Ford Maverick is seen parked outside the house. The Maverick was not introduced until 1969, four years after the events of the film.
She sacrificed me to protect her children, and she sacrificed her children to protect herself.
A non-fiction horror film, hard to watch but important
I attended the world premiere of "An American Crime" at the 2007
Sundance Film Festival. Among the several decidedly downbeat films I
saw this past week, this one was by far the hardest to watch. But
something about it is compelling, like craning your neck to see what
horrors can be spotted at the scene of a car crash. You know it can't
be anything pretty, yet you can't take your eyes off it. Perhaps it was
knowing that the film is, in fact, based on a true story. The opening
courtroom scenes and disclaimer that "actual transcripts" were used
make that clear. There's something about a "true crime" drama that
triggers a desire to sit through whatever terrifying images lie ahead.
And the images conjured up here are bone-chilling.
In 1965, Betty Likens (Romy Rosemont) and her husband Lester (Nick
Searcy) decided it was best to leave their two daughters with a
neighbor while they went off with a traveling carnival. So Sylvia
Likens (Ellen Page) and her sister Jennie Fae (Hayley McFarland)
settled in with the Baniszewski clan. And what a clan it was. Mother
Gertrude (Catherine Keener) already had five of her own in tow, and now
she added two more. What happened then, well documented in the record,
is now played out for us with horrifying realism.
This is Keener and Page's film, despite the large ensemble cast
assembled for the story. And both actors create frighteningly
devastating portrayals of characters we still can't quite believe
really endured these horrors. Mommie Dearest doesn't hold a candle to
Keener's Gertrude, and Page is as heartbreaking as any victim I've seen
in modern cinema. Both turn in award-winning performances that left me
In addition to the numerous family members, an assortment of school
chums has the opportunity to get involved in some way. Coy Hubbard
(Jeremy Sumpter) is the boyfriend of one of the Baniszewski brood.
Known to most from 2003's "Peter Pan," we can't help but feel that he
will be the hero here. Teddy Lewis (Michael Welch), is an enigma from
the start. One of our most prolific yet underrated young actors today,
Welch is perfectly cast as the boy whose blood runs hot or cold
depending on the prevailing winds. Other notables include The West
Wing's Bradley Whitford as prosecutor Leroy K. New.
This is a period piece set in the mid-60s, and the costumes, sets, and
palette of colors effectively evokes that era to a T. Much of the
film's look can be attributed to the cinematography of Byron Shah, who
had two films here at Sundance (his "The Go-Getter" was one of my
favorite film' at this year's festival).
"An American Crime" is not for everyone. It's a horror film that isn't
a work of fiction. If it was from the hand of Stephen King it would be
scary and delicious. Instead it's scary and nauseating. Yet it deserves
the label "important," because the subject matter is worthy of
discussion. And that's because the horrors exposed in this film are
still occurring today. That's the real crime.