What A Crime

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

BY Kyle Buchanan

May 14 2008 12:00 AM ET

It takes a
careful hand to keep this curious tragedy from spilling into
Mommie Dearest territory, and fortunately for
O’Haver, Keener gives a subtle, bravura performance.
It’s hard to imagine that a suburban mother
could preside over events this horrible, but Keener
keeps Gertrude real, even small -- and she’s all the
more terrifying for it. This is a woman too poor to go
to the doctor, a woman who self-medicates to keep both
her asthma and financial problems at bay, a woman
whose own problems (including an out-of-wedlock baby
fathered by a boyish lowlife) are far worse than the
crimes she levels at her young charge. Sprawled most
days on the living room couch, Gertrude can summon
energy only to punish Sylvia, an epic transference that
leaves the girl shattered and almost always culminates
in a terrible, knowing cough from the mother.

An American Crime is not easy going, and some
may wonder why this tale needs to be told at all. Setting
aside the story's eerie similarity to the recent case
of the Austrian father who tied his daughter up in the
basement for decades, the film draws a striking
parallel to the recent, treacherous downturn in American
foreign policy. Instead of fighting the real enemy, we
scapegoat; instead of following a moral code, we
torture; and instead of coming to our senses, we
create a poisonous atmosphere where everyone is complicit.
All one has to do is turn on the evening news to
resolve that crimes like this one can never be called
“American” again.

Tags: film

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