‘Cleveland Abduction’ Review: Lifetime Retells True-Life Horror

The scariest part of Lifetime's 'Cleveland Abduction?' It really happened. Every horrific detail comes from the actual Ariel Castro Kidnappings, where three young women were imprisoned and abused for over a decade. Yet, beyond the pain and suffering, the movie shares an inspirational message of perseverance and hope. Cleveland Abduction, the Lifetime movie that aired on May 2, retold the heartbreakingly gruesome story of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, three women who were kidnapped and held captive by Ariel Castro for more than a decade. Taryn Manning took on the role of Michelle, and wowed an incredibly touching preformance.

‘Cleveland Abduction’ Review

Adapted from Michelle Knight’s 2014 memoir, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, the film featured Michelle as is a single, 21-year old mother, caught up in a living hell. After she accepted a ride from Ariel Castro (Raymond Cruz) to a child custody court appointment, Ariel suggested making a quick stop at his home. Michelle protested at first, but agreed in hope he’d eventually help her make her important court date on time.

That five-minute stop turned into an ordeal that lasted eleven years.

Michelle’s capture and first assault was startling to watch. Ariel gagged and hog-tied her, before suspending her off the floor. From there, Michelle suffered constant physical, sexual and psychological attacks from her captor. He beat her. He raped her. He insulted Michelle, telling her that no one misses her.

How did this woman survive all this? By remembering her commitment as a mother to her son and by retaining her spirituality.

This twisted relationship between Ariel and Michelle is at the center of Cleveland Abduction. The movie is at its best when Taryn and Raymond play off each other. Ariel is a savage beast whose abuse seems to be without reason, while Michelle is a patient, almost-forgiving victim who understands her abuser better than he does.

“You’re in prison,” Michelle said in one powerful scene. “And it’s worse than me because your prison is you.”

Ariel Captures Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus

Nine months after her abduction, Ariel brought home a second girl: Amanda Berry (Samantha Droke.) Where Michelle remained defiant, Amanda was completely devastated. Michelle tried to rally Amanda into devising an escape plan, but Amanda doesn’t budge. It’s only when Ariel captured his third victim, Gina DeJesus (Katie Sarife) that Michelle finally found a kindred spirit. Together, they helped each other find the will to survive.

The first half of Cleveland Abduction focused on the first nine months of Michelle’s captivity. The backend breezed through the remaining ten years, touching on the most notorious events of their enslavement. This included Amanda’s pregnancy with Ariel and how Michelle helped deliver the baby girl.

The women ultimately managed to escape through Ariel’s carelessness. After he forgot to lock the house’s front door, Amanda managed to get the attention of their neighbors, leading to their rescue and Ariel’s arrest.

The Aftermath

Afterward, Michelle struggled to overcome her trauma. Ultimately, she decides to continue with her life, but to summon the courage to confront Ariel during his sentencing. In Cleveland Abduction, Taryn read Michelle’s actual testimony that she delivered in 2013 when she told Ariel “from this moment on, I won’t let you define me or affect who I am.”

Taryn gave a smart and powerful performance, one that conveyed the pain of Michelle’s horrific experiences while still retaining the determination of a survivor. Raymond also succeeded in making Ariel Castro look evil but also believable. Even if Cleveland Abduction wasn’t based off a true story, the performances by these two were grounded in reality, strengthening the movie. While the first half is stronger than the second, it’s a powerful story for victims of sexual assault and those who have been in an abusive relationship.

What did you think about Cleveland Abduction, HollywoodLifers?

— Jason Brow

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