For last few months, I have started listening to Reel Insight Pod-casts by Rachel and Jess. I must say I am quite enjoying it. Last week, they joined the forces and started new site Reel Insight. Give it a go. Since I was a late starter, once in a while when I have time, I find myself listening to few of the old episodes featuring some of my favorite actors. The other day, I was listening to their Anniversary episode. In that episode, I heard a very small Indie movie called An American Crime(2007) mentioned. Rachel spoke quite highly about it. And it stars Ellen Page, one of the actors I want to see more of. So, I decided to give it a watch.
An American Crime is a story of atrocities two teenage sisters - Sylvia and Jenny - faced when their parents, traveling carnival workers, left them with single mother Gertrude Baniszewski and her six children for couple of months. Times are tough for her as Gertrude is sick and very much pushed against the wall to feed her family. Her daughters meet Sylvia and Jenny in Church and hit off instantly. Their parents are planning to go away for carnival but their problem is how to accommodate girls. This prompts Gertrude to come up with an idea of taking care of girls while they are away in hope of picking up some extra cash. Initially, everything goes well. Gertrude's oldest daughter Paula and Sylvia become good friends as well. However, her financial instability is checking Gertrude's limits and first brick comes loose when girls' parents send their cheque a little late. However, since this is very first event of many more to follow, girls even try to reason that it is not like we have never been punished before and their parents will take care of it. However, one thing after another, all hell breaks loose.
It is an extremely disturbing movie to watch and even though director Tommy O'Haver keeps viewer's discernment in mind and avoids being extremely graphic; it is pretty much clear from the narrative. And in my opinion, it makes it even more disturbing. Gertrude even tries to validate her behavior with big words, like once she tells Paula that sometimes you need to do certain things which you are not comfortable with, but they are necessary. Many of Gertrude's own children are shown to be the part of these atrocities "because mama told them to". They also involve kids in the neighborhood punishing Sylvia for her so called bad behavior, giving her cigarette burns and using her as punching bag. Being based on a true story that happened in Indianapolis in 1965, it is very uncomforting to imagine that an actual, living human being suffered all this through hands of another human besides the fact that most of those involved were just kids, except Gertrude of course. And shockingly, she denies all the charges in the court. 'She sacrificed me to save her children and then sacrificed them to save herself' as Sylvia would say.
Most of the actors involved do a great job. Catherine Keener as Gertrude seems despicable, Ari Graynor as Paula goes well through all her transformations. Even James Franco has a small part as Gertrude's ex-boyfriend Andy. However, highlight of the whole story remains to be Ellen Page as Sylvia Likens. I remember watching her first in Hard Candy(2005), another strange little movie that has an ability to disturb you deeply. I remember watching it with a Friend. Even though we both just wanted it to finish so that the outside world will once more look like a Happy Place, it was so gripping that we did not dare to stop till the end however uncomfortable we were. She seems to have to have gone through a phase of psychotic roles during that period. Mouth to Mouth(2005), though I haven't seen it, from the word of it, does not look much comforting. Ellen Page was brilliant in all of them though. And as we know it, she has come a long way now with Juno(2007) and Inception(2010). With the latest release of trailer for Woody Allen's To Rome, With Love(2012) and with her pairing to Jesse Eisenberg, I will wait eagerly for it too.
Rating(out of 5):