Import Week, Day 3: Let's Get Dark. An American Crime

Here's a film you have to import pretty much just because it's too dark.  Sites like Wikipedia even categorize this as a horror movie, though to that I would say no.  It's actually bleaker and more disturbing than that.  As its title suggests, 2007's An American Crime tells the all too-real of a tragic true crime case, specifically the torture and murder of a teenage girl by a single mother and her children in the 1960s, small town America.  It's a truly disturbing, morbid case, quite well told, which seems to have put US distributors off, unfortunately.
Elliot Page was a rising star at the time of this release, and James Franco has a smaller, supporting role, as did Bradley Whitford.  But really, this is Catherine Keener's film.  At this point, I think she's pretty widely recognized as a great actress, despite decades of mostly being relegated to "the wife" roles or romantic comedies.  She surely made an impression on audiences in Get Out.  But wow, this is a tour de force.  That, coupled with this film's unflinching honesty (and, to a lesser degree, its skill at capturing the period) really packs a powerful wallop.  One many audiences might reasonably choose to avoid.  But if you like your art challenging...
That said, it's uncompromising nature wasn't the only thing that gave An American Crime a hard time during its release.  Another movie based on the same murder happened to come out the same year.  The Girl Next Door is an adaptation of Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, that basically takes the same incident and runs it through his detective fictionalization filter.  Ketchum isn't exactly known for softening up his subject matter, but I've seen both movies, and there's no comparison.  It's got so much artifice Crime thankfully lacks (although, to be fair, Crime takes one weird little liberty, too, in the last act), taking as its source just the genuine court transcripts.  But being the better movie doesn't help much when you're the second film on the same subject to hit the market.  Just ask The Last Days of Disco that had to follow all the hype of 54Crime wound up losing its theatrical release and debuting on Showtime.  It did win some awards, but it's still less than this film deserved.
So An American Crime was released as a barebones new release DVD by First Look Studios in 2008 and... that's been the whole story in the US.  But fortunately, there are HD options overseas, including from Norway, Sweden and, most obtainably, Germany on Capelight's 2009 BD release.
2008 US First Look DVD top; 2009 DE Capelight BD bottom.
So, as a then new release, it's naturally the same master being used.  But there are some very welcome improvements from Capelight.  Starting off as I usually do with the aspect ratio, I'll point out that First Look's 2.32:1 has been corrected to 2.35.  This doesn't actually reveal anymore along the sides, but corrects a tiny vertical stretching.  Much more importantly, the US DVD is interlaced, which is pretty shocking for a modern theatrical release disc as recent as 2008.  Thankfully, Capelight resolves that, and also gives us a generally sharper, HD image free of the soft smudginess of standard def.  It's a distinct upgrade.

And unlike Import Week Day 2, Capelight's English audio is properly lossless in DTS-HD.  Both discs have the original 5.1, with Capelight also adding a 5.1 DTS-HD German dub.  First Look's sole advantage is optional English subtitles, while Capelight naturally just has German.  First Look also has a 2.0 mix-down and optional Spanish subtitles.
Unfortunately, all options are essentially barebones.  First Look just has the trailer and a bunch of bonus trailers.  Capelight also has the trailer, in English and German, and its own collection of bonus trailers.  It also includes reversible artwork to hide that giant, ugly ratings logo.  But that's it.  Still, simply in terms of presenting the film itself, it's pretty flawless, which is a lot more than you can say for the American DVD.

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