What A Crime

Showtime's forceful drama based on a true crime is revealing -- for the victims and America itself.



Lord of the Flies meets ’60s suburbia in the
devastating An American Crime, directed and
cowritten by Tommy O’Haver (and worlds away from his
gay romantic comedy Billy’s Hollywood Screen
). Airing May 10 on Showtime, it’s
based on the true-crime story of Indiana single mother
Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener), a troubled,
seething asthmatic struggling to support a rowdy
household of seven children. When a married couple of
itinerant carnival workers offer their two daughters to
Gertrude in exchange for a regular check, it seems like the
perfect arrangement: Gertrude can attempt to put
poverty behind her, and the girls can finally get to
know a stable home.

What follows,
though, is anything but perfect. Gertrude quickly tags the
eldest girl, Sylvia Likens (Juno's Ellen Page),
as a troublemaker, despite -- or, perhaps, because of -- the
girl’s relative innocence. When the first check from
Sylvia’s parents arrives late, Gertrude is all
too ready to administer a whipping to both Likens
children, and when the protective Sylvia offers to take the
beatings in her sister’s stead, she unwittingly
becomes the family scapegoat, exiled and eventually
tied up in the basement. Gertrude, her children, and
even the neighbors all have their turn with the battered
Sylvia in the months to come, physically punishing her for
grievances they themselves have committed or, in the
most chilling cases, for no reason at all except that
she is there and they are bloodthirsty.

Tags: film