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An American Crime (2007)

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The true story of suburban housewife Gertrude Baniszewski, who kept a teenage girl locked in the basement of her Indiana home during the 1960s.

Director:

Tommy O'Haver
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4,039 ( 585)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Ellen Page ... Sylvia Likens
Hayley McFarland ... Jennie Likens
Nick Searcy ... Lester Likens
Romy Rosemont ... Betty Likens
Catherine Keener ... Gertrude Baniszewski
Ari Graynor ... Paula Baniszewski
Scout Taylor-Compton ... Stephanie Baniszewski
Tristan Jarred ... Johnny Baniszewski
Hannah Leigh ... Shirley Baniszewski (as Hannah Leigh Dworkin)
Bradley Whitford ... Prosecutor
Michael O'Keefe ... Reverend Bill Collier
Carlie Westerman ... Marie Baniszewski
Michelle Benes ... Hope Orbach
Patricia Place Patricia Place ... Mrs. Doyle
Calvin Keet Calvin Keet ... Mr. Doyle
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Storyline

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 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. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The true story of a shocking crime and a secret that wouldn't keep. See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong and disturbing depiction of child abuse and torture | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

7 December 2007 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

The Basement See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA

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Box Office

Budget:

$2,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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." See more »

Goofs

At one point during a punishment scene, the shot changes to the neighbors outside, and a fan is visible in an open window. The shot returns to the same view a moment later, but the window is closed, the curtains are drawn, and no fan is visible. See more »

Quotes

Gertrude Baniszewski: [preparing to write the tattoo onto Sylvia's belly] Ricky... she came back from juvenile! Started stirring up trouble again... Johnny hold her!
Sylvia Likens: No, please, please!
Gertrude Baniszewski: Keep her still!
Marie Baniszewski: If you move, it'll only be messy.
Gertrude Baniszewski: [gives Marie a lighter and a safety pin] Light that.
Sylvia Likens: No! No! No! Please! No! No! Please! Please!
Gertrude Baniszewski: Stop it!
Shirley Baniszewski: You got it right, mama?
Gertrude Baniszewski: Make sure it's hot!
Sylvia Likens: I'm sorry! I'm sorry!
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

The final credit states "Sylvia Likens, 1949-1965". See more »

Connections

Version of The Girl Next Door (2007) See more »

Soundtracks

Baby, I'm Yours
Written by Van McCoy
Performed by Barbara Lewis
Couresty of Atlantic Recording Group
By Arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
A non-fiction horror film, hard to watch but important
30 January 2007 | by larry-411See all my reviews

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 with chills.

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.


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