Film Review: An American Crime

Trailer of An American Crime

Unable to sleep I came across the film An American Crime. I read the brief information provided and learned the stars were Catherine Keener and Ellen Page so I decided to watch. I had never heard of the production or the true story of Sylvia Likens (Page) and what was considered the most horrible documented crime on an individual in the history of Indianapolis.

I watched with a knot in my stomach that just kept twisting as the film became more macabre, vicious and frightening, it was almost unbelievable. Unfortunately what I was watching was true and extremely tame compared to the actual crimes perpetrated on Sylvia by Gertrude Baniszewski (Keener). The film inter-cut between the courtroom testimony of the other five children and Sylvia’s own sister who were being cared for by “Gertie.” What I saw was so difficult that this is not going to be a film review at this time, but my reaction.

As soon as the film was over I googled the story and found myself reading various newspaper and journal articles. I wanted an answer as to how this could happen? I also wanted to know what the value was in making such a horrific, terrifying film? Only one conclusion made sense and both stars echoed the sentiment that her story needed to be told. Perhaps because it is so disturbing, it may make someone do something if ever they suspect that abuse is going on. Finally to remind people that Sylvia is just one precious life struck down by cruel, mentally unfit adults, scared children and seriously flawed judgement by so many others who could have, with one word saved this girls life.

No one said a thing as screams emanated from that house. Children told parents who either did not believe it or somehow ignored it for whatever reason. And neighbors, who heard just stayed to themselves. This is the crime which boils my blood as much as the torture Sylvia endured and that is the stark reality with which people live.

Ellen Page’s performance is heartbreaking and I wonder how one might be mentally able to sustain work in such a role.  I can’t imagine it not being something that will haunt her on some level.  Keener, although played with restraint is demonic, depraved, desperate and cruel.  In reconciling whether to do the film (which she originally refused) she finally decided that as a mother she had to. 

While we were laughing it up and watching Juno, Page was making a film quite different, important and controversial.  This is not for everyone.  It is a true crime story played out in gruesome fashion.  Yet for the Sylvia’s who lived and died this way perhaps it should be seen and discussed. 

 Copyright Β©2008 Veronica Romm

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43 thoughts on “Film Review: An American Crime

  1. I just watched the first bit when the abuse began and stopped on the coke bottle incident because I was so filled with rage. A jail term is nothing compared to the torture Sylvia endured. I didn’t watch the rest of the movie but google searched for information. The Baniszewski’s were scum and the mother bitch Gertie only took the Likens girls because of that $20 dollar a week payment. I just can’t bring myself to watch the rest of the film. Its just too miserable. And you can’t say, its just a movie, because it is based on a true story. I just foward it to Jenny and Gerties testimony and the sentence. At least I find solace that Gertie and her accomplices were all charged and served time.

  2. Oh, and I did NOT like the “1st ending” to the movie, I can’t even figure out why they put that in??!! Maybe to show what could have been? We KNOW what could have been though if someone, anyone would have helped, so why throw that in? To me that just made it worse, more painful to see what she had to go through when she goes back in that house. I don’t know, I just finished the movie maybe an hour ago and I’m still too angry/sad to even think I guess. Sick sick SICK woman!

  3. I agree with your “summary” I don’t think I have ever cried and sobbed as much in my life as I did while watching this movie, I wanted to reach through the television and craddle this lil Angel, it is truely heartbreakin, and I like yourself immediatly after watching it went to Google. I wanted to know how, why, and for so long NOONE said anything to STOP this?!?! It makes me ill, I also wondered why would anyone ever want to make such a sick film, then again, I like yourself thought because it needs to be seen. If anyone ever told a parent, friend, teacher, someone is being hurt, mistreated, someone may do something about it before it gets to this. What a heartbreaking, yet eye opening film. This has happened to so many children (though they may live to tell it) and anything that can be done to STOP it, should be put out there. Thanks for the review/summary. God Bless ~Allison~

  4. I saw this movie over 5 years ago, and still to this day I have random nightmares from seeing it. It was an amazing movie but the torture that was endured in this movie haunts me still. I do; however, would still recommend this movie to anyone.

  5. Nahal, i understand your feelings of disgust watching this movie. You can’t be human and not feel that way. But I think there is great value in seeing this movie. The point to be taken out of it is hanging onto your “moral compass”. Group dynamics can be quite scary and people stop thinking for themselves, granted usually not to this horrific extent, but there is a definite value in seeing this movie. Like the author of the blog points out, what is depicted in the movie apparently does not even do justice to what took place.

  6. I watched and ended up disturbed and wondering what is wrong with humanity…. had to search and find out more about this crime as you did. Your words echo my thoughts and feelings and am greatful to have found them. I’m a grown ass 58 year old man, yet am still traumatized by this story. It helps to share our thoughts… Thank you.

  7. Anybody who hasnt watched the film yet, PLEASE do not watch it, it is the most disturbing film I v ever seen! I really cant understand why they had to torture the audience like that! Does it have any point to make people watch someone being tortured in the most brutal way?

  8. I’ve watched this movie only 3 days ago. I was touched and at the same time, felt hatred for Gertrude and her kids. I am not fond of researching but after watching the movie, I found myself in front of the computer and reading some facts and articles about the movie. I feel sorry for Sylvia, but as said in the movie, God has plans for us

  9. I saw this film about a year ago and I was so disturbed that I did not sleep for weeks. I could not believe that this could happen and nobody, not even Sylvia’s sister sought help for Sylvia. All those children that were involved, some teenagers, one has to wonder what the hell was wrong with them to participate in the horror, sexual abuse and torture of this poor girl. I wondered about the mob mentality and their inhumanity. To my horror, I found there is another movie version of this story, which is much more graphic and horryfying. Actually, after only 30 minutes, I had to turn this one off and walk away. This story did need to to told, but it is extremely disturbing and hard to watch.

  10. ive never seen such a sad movie in my life i cried through the whole movie and i can believe that nothing was done nobody done anything when it came to abuse in the sixties and seventies it was swept under the carpet this movie made me sad and angry

  11. READ THE BOOK: House Of Evil. Its a true crime book about the torture slaying of Sylvia Liken. Its has pictures too!! All I need to do now is watch the movie. We must all learn from this story, no matter what, we must STAND UP, SPEAK OUT AND FIGHT BACK! To save innocent lives from ALL types of abuse!

  12. To Ghost2,

    hopefully this site passes your information on to the police. you obviously are some sort of mental case in need of help and from the sounds of things may even be capable of this cruel and inhuman behavior yourself.

  13. OMG. this movie is the most shoking and tragic true movie i’ve ever seen. how could someone be so cold to commite a crime like this. she was a vulnerable and innocent teenage girl. she could be so cold. and her daughter paula arrrrr she is a slut. she slept with a married man and as that wasn’t enough she accuse’s sylvia of something she didn’t even do. all sylvia was trying to was protect her. when paula told her mum that sylvia was spreading rumors about her i was PISSED OFF.
    through out the whole movie either i was angry, crying or just wasnted to kill the people who were involved in harming sylvia. she was so sweet. it made me cry when sylvia was trying to protect her sister jenny from getting hurt even though she was going through such a horrific pain. i hope both sisters are safe with with our king.

  14. My God! What a gut wrenching story. I agree with everything veronicom said at the top. I had no idea what to expect when i saw this movie. As it unfolded I got more and more disturbed to the point where I had to forward some of the parts because it was so unbelievably hard to watch. The acting is superb and the story itself is just horrible. I don’t think I’ve ever been felt like this after watching a movie. This is the sort of movie that does make you question the belief that there is a god and the movie itself deals with this very same point at the end. Like you, I had to read further after the movie and I have to say, It was a relief to read your comments because they mirrored how I feel and I needed to see that and express it myself. If you haven’t seen it perhaps you should but it’s really not for those of us who are faint hearted, but I do believe this story needed to be told. Simply put, it was the most disturbing movies I have ever seen and I’ve seen a fair few. The fact that it’s a true story simply makes it even more sad. That mother should have got the death penalty and I don’t agree with capital punishment, but in her case, I’d make an exception. At one point in the movie I wanted to beat the crap out of her myself. Very provocative movie….see it for yourself.

  15. Ya, it wasn’t Sylvia at all. Part of the reason the married man didn’t wanrt the girl. He was going to harm her and slyvia tried to STOP that. She wasn’t the one who spreaded the rumors, it was that strange kid who always followed Sylvia. NO CHILD DESERVED TO DIESGhost2!! All the frigging kids joined in….it was all cruel. Of course you wouldn’t care, it not you who had to suffer day in and day out. How insensitive and childish!!

  16. The movie effected me too. I couldn’t believe no one tried to help the girl either. I was so upset at the older daughter too. I loved the actress who played the victim. She should’ve won something. That’s why I don’t do home daycare. I refuse too! I was glad to see justice was done. I was sad and no child should have to go through that.

  17. To Ghost2,how can u say this?she never said horrible things about gerty`s daughter.All she did is to say the true!
    “To stop the boyfriend’s attack, Sylvia tells him that Paula is pregnant. Paula, furious, vows that Sylvia will pay for spilling her secret.”

  18. To Ghost2,

    Obviously from your spelling and lack of grammer you are an idiot who is probably the result of generations of inbreeding, but that doesn’t morally excuse you from saying, “she got what she deserved”.

  19. I grew up in the neighborhood where this happened and went to school with Richard Hobbs and Jenny Likens and her brother Benny. I was a close friend of Richard’s as well as his brother. It was devistating for all of us growing up together. Even more so for some of us that knew Richard as a good friend. After all these years I still cannnot believe he did what they said he did. I honestly do not think all who were involved were ever brought to trial. I saw a certain member of her family playing at a local grocery just the evening before Sylvia was found. We all still suffer from this crime. To think that one evil woman could have such control over all these young children and that their parents would have just left them in the care of this person. The looks and condition of the home should have told them something about her.

  20. Omg when I saw this movie I cried. This move is horrible. I just dont know how something like this could happened! I Pray for sylvia that she may be with our Lord!

  21. I just finished watching this movie and like you I googled to find out if it was true. This was a very very sad story and it is unfathomable how this could happen. Even as a child I would have known that what was taking place was wrong. And the neighbors could have made an anonymous call to the police. I hope that people learn that sometimes you do have to speak up even when things do not concern you. This was a very sad story and I was hoping it was not based on a true story…I am sorry to know that it is…

  22. its horrible!! but I think she deserve wat happened to her…she don’t have the right to say bad things about gerty’s daughter…n her sister jenny should of told her father by the phone or something

  23. I grabed the wrong movie by accident , but I am glad I watched it. We forget that their are people out there in this world that either are crazy or have no feelings and will hurt others. I have been telling everyone to watch it.
    We allow ourselves to be fooled by appearances. Who in their wright mind would leave there children with a complete stranger. As a neigbor I hear screaming or any suspiciouse noise I would call the police. I was so upset. I cried through the whole movie. NEVER KEEP QUITE!

  24. One of the most horrible stories I ever watched. So many people knew about tortures or should have suspected…I could not believe that no one single person around was trying to stop that cruelty…
    I will never leave my kids with someone I do not know well. And you don’t…

  25. I totally agree with you. I felt the same and utterly disturbed after seeing the movie. How can someone do this to someone!!

  26. OMG!! That was a great movie and I let my 11 yr old watch it.I cried and she cried.It was so sad to see ther was and is people out there like that.I told my daughter if for any reason she went threw something like this to tel ammediatly.

  27. Pingback: sylvia likens

  28. hmmm … i’m scared to see that movie now. but i wonder jus how bad the depravities can be. i mean some crazy stuff goes on … i wonder if their story is, well i’d have to watch the movie. but i stumble on here from found … and i wonder if u would sent me an invite.

  29. Usually I love to watch romantic movies or humor.. thrillers and crime based movies are also interesting but disturbing.. but if it has justice in the end… I ‘d love to watch it..I haven’t seen this movie.. but after reading ur review, I wish to see it and then comment on it! let me check if I can get it here…in SA… Thanks Veronica..

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