"This," said Prosecutor Leroy New, "has been the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana;" the first crime of child abuse that broke through reticence and denial to register with the public. In Tommy O'Haver's heartbreaking and hard-hitting film, AN AMERICAN CRIME, Academy Award ® nominee Catherine Keener portrays Gertrude Baniszewski, the seemingly ordinary housewife who imprisons and tortures a beautiful teenager, played by Academy Award ® nominee Ellen Page, in the basement of her house - two portrayals that will resonate with audiences long after they leave the theatre. AN AMERICAN CRIME also stars James Franco and Bradley Whitford.
An extended sleepover turns tragic for two sisters in this fact-based tele-film. After their carnival worker parents separate, Sylvia (Juno
's Ellen Page) and Jennie Fae Likens (Hayley McFarland) move in with Gertrude "Gertie" Baniszewski (Emmy nominee Catherine Keener), a divorced Indianapolis mother with seven children (six in the screenplay). The kids get along, so the Likens figure Gertie will offer a safe haven until they return. Little do they realize she has a substance-abuse problem, a history of mental illness, and a layabout lover (James Franco). Even with the money the Likens send and the washing she takes in, Gertie can't make ends meet, so she takes her frustration out on her boarders. Since Jennie has polio, Sylvia bears the brunt of her anger: beatings, cigarette burns, and worse. Then when Sylvia tries to protect Paula (Nick and Norah
's Ari Graynor) from an abusive boyfriend, Paula turns against her, too (Sylvia tells him about Paula's pregnancy). Like dominoes, the rest of the extended family falls in line. Three months later, their torture culminates in murder. Throughout, the narrative alternates between 1965 and the ensuing court case, in which prosecutor Leroy K. New (The West Wing
's Bradley Whitford) cross-examines witnesses and defendants, whose testimony comes from the original transcripts. If An American Crime
, which aired on Showtime, makes for difficult viewing, former Indianapolis resident Tommy O'Haver (Ella Enchanted
) renders a salacious story as tactfully as possible, and his cast is always convincing--painfully so in the case of Ms. Keener. --Kathleen C. Fennessy