25 March 2011

Movies: An American Crime vs The Girl Next Door

An American Crime (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0802948/
The Girl Next Door (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0830558/

Both films are based on the case of Sylvia Likens, a young girl tortured to death in 1965, the "most terrible crime committed in Indiana." In a nutshell, the parents of Sylvia and Jenny leave the girls in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski for $20 a week. Three months later it is discovered Sylvia was tortured to death by Gertrude, some of her offspring, and some neighborhood kids.  It is a terrible story.

An American Crime (AAC) is based largely on court transcripts of the actual case. The film moves like a documentary of the events.  Stars Katherine Keener as Gertrude and Ellen Page as Sylvia.

The Girl Next Door (TGND) is based on a novel of the same name, which is a fictionalized account based on the same case.  The names and places in TGND are changed, and the conditions under which the girls are left with the family are different. There are changes to some of the characters and details of the aftermath. 

Thing is, at the core both stories are pretty much the same, because they are based on the same case.

Both movies have great casts, are acted well, and constructed well. There is some feeling of distraction while watching AAC because the primary cast is so recognizable, whereas TGND uses lesser known actors for their cast, so that distraction doesn't happen. TGND looks grittier than AAC.  AAC looks like polished poverty compared to TGND's portrayal of the conditions.


Both films are rough to watch, because the events depicted are so brutal.  TGND is actually harder to watch because they show more of the terrible things done. AAC leaves a little more to the imagination.

I considered both films equally good as films go. Both have their strengths in performance, and they're both built on solid stories and scripting. And honestly, my hat is off to the casts for both films, because these had to be very hard films to perform in, be they the torturers or the tortured.  My overall preference is for TGND, mostly because I didn't know the cast and it didn't pull as many punches.

It is a heartbreaking story.  If you enjoy based on true events types of  films, this is a good pair to choose from.  Still, if anything read the wikipedia article on the case before you choose to watch either of the films so that you have an idea what you're in for ahead of time.
If you don't have much of a stomach for movies involving the torturing of someone, An American Crime is probably the easier of the two to watch. And it is more in line with the facts of the case. TGND will leave you covering your eyes and ears through some of the scenes.

There really isn't a need to see both films unless you really want to -- AAC will deliver the story in a form a little easier to watch, and closer to the actual facts of the case.  I watched both specifically because I wanted to compare the two, but I really had no clue what I was in for.  And I watched TGND first, then AAC, so AAC seemed rather tame in comparison, even though it really isn't tame as far as films go.

Now, I watched both these films about three years ago, so this review is completely from memory without rewatching them to refresh my impressions. But they are good enough movies that they did leave very memorable impressions.  I'm still debating whether or not to rewatch one or the other.

I think what reminded me of them was I watched a trailer for "Super" the other day, which has Ellen Page in it, plus I just watched Barry Munday, which has Patrick Wilson who was in "Hard Candy" with Ellen Page, and I got to thinking of other Ellen Page films, and both Hard Candy and An American Crime are memorable films. Heck now I'm considering rewatching Hard Candy.

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