TV Review: ‘Cleveland Abduction’

Cleveland Abduction TV Movie Review on

The filmmakers struggle to find redeeming features in the uncomfortable and claustrophobic “Cleveland Abduction,” a sickening tale of brutality and rape that the main character endured for more than a decade. Taryn Manning stars as Michelle Knight, the 21-year-old single mother kidnapped by Ariel Castro, and held along with two other young girls in a house where he routinely abused them. Based on Knight’s book, the movie seeks a sense of uplift in her having survived the ordeal and overcome her victimization, but for those even remotely familiar with the facts, it’s difficult to make a case for watching.

Introduced in 2002 trying to regain custody of her young son from foster care, Michelle is in such a hurry to be on time for a meeting with social workers about securing his return that she agrees to accept a ride from someone she vaguely knows, Castro (“Breaking Bad’s” Raymond Cruz). He proceeds to lure her into his house with the promise of a free puppy for the boy, before knocking her out, hogtying her and suspending her half-naked body from the ground by wires.

“I can do whatever I want to you,” he hisses, and proceeds to prove the point, even entertaining family downstairs while she remains trussed up a floor above.

Things don’t get any better from there, as Michelle’s attempts to escape or alert neighbors are met with a right cross from her tormenter. Castro then abducts two more young girls (played by Samantha Droke and Katie Sarife), who Michelle seeks to encourage and protect, even helping to deliver one’s baby.

Directed by Alex Kalymnios from a script by Stephen Tolkin, the movie (which carries frequent “viewer discretion” warnings) is spare and grim. Yet as horrible as it is, with Cruz bringing a sense of crazy, unpredictable menace to Castro, the 70 minutes or so of screen time chronicling the 11 years Knight spent as his prisoner somehow manage to feel like too much and not nearly enough all at once.

Manning (“Orange Is the New Black”) does convey an ordinary quality that makes her situation feel all the more real and harrowing. Yet her quiet strength truly reveals itself at the end, where — having been rescued — she agrees to speak at Castro’s trial, while receiving support from a helpful nurse and an FBI agent (Pam Grier and Joe Morton, respectively, in roles that amount to little more than cameos).

Lifetime is well known for producing these kind of movies, capitalizing on the appetite for ripped-from-the-headlines stories that the broadcast networks abandoned years ago (although ABC’s newsmagazine “20/20” revisited the case earlier this week). Based on the success of the formula, the cabler can argue it’s simply giving its viewers what they want, which explains its acquisition of another child-abduction story, “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” scheduled for May 9.

Still, “Cleveland Abduction” is ugly, brutal and hard to watch. And while that reflects the facts behind the story, just because it’s true is hardly sufficient rationale for agreeing to wallow in a tale of such agonizing cruelty.

TV Review: 'Cleveland Abduction'

(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. May 2, 8 p.m.)


Filmed in Cleveland by Peace Out Prods. and Frank von Zerneck Films in association with Sony Pictures Television.


Executive producers, Judith Verno, Frank von Zerneck; producers, David A. Rosemont, Stephen Tolkin; director, Alex Kalymnios; writer, Tolkin; based on the book by Michelle Knight; camera, Richard Wong; production designer, Derek R. Hill; editor, Henk Van Eeghen; music, Tony Morales; casting, Susan Edelman. 120 MIN.


Taryn Manning, Raymond Cruz, Samantha Droke, Katie Sarife, Pam Grier, Joe Morton

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  1. KJ says:

    Yes the movie is hard to watch, but that’s what happened! The reviewer was way off with his negativity, and all the cast did an excellent job. However according to Amanda Berry ,Charles Ramsey was the only person on the porch helping her.

  2. Kamelle says:

    This movie made me feel a bad way I could not believe my eyes it was hard to watch but this is real life be aware of the people you see never take some ones kindness as being kind but know people have bad intentions some people are very sick minded and twisted god have mercy

  3. Amy says:

    Very good acting as well for Lifetime actors, I normally wont both watching the movies on that network, for its reputation of being like “after school specials” but this one was very different. Cant stop talking about it with family and friends. There is so much evil in the world, watch your back ladies! And also watch what is going on around you, not many do.

  4. Amy says:

    I cried a lot watching this movie, it was soooo disturbing to see what they went through, they are my hero’s!

  5. choconet64 says:

    I just can’t believe this writer’s ostrich mentality!!! Wimp! Yes this movie was heart wrenching, painful and all around sad! I cried out loud several times! My heart ached for Michelle Knight but in spite of everyone abandoning her (even her cell mates), no one ever looking for her and having to give up ever meeting the very reason for surviving, her son she just keeps going. We all need to watch this movie so that we can see what resilence looks like in a tiny little woman.

  6. Nancy says:

    I have nothing to ever ever complain about in this life seeing what Michelle and the other two girl.s went through.The tears I shed watching this I can say you are all hero’s and I pray for the good lord to keep you strong through the rest of your life.

  7. bgionti says:

    This type of movie that is “difficult to watch” as you say – is exactly what we need to see. This man kept these women in a house on a street in Cleveland Ohio. Perhaps the lesson in all of this is that we should all pay closer attention to clues right before our eyes. A house with windows boarded up? Pay attention. A man with a child that is his girlfriends when no one sees the girlfriend ever? Pay attention. Rooms in house that are off limits? Pay attention. We need to see this movie to remind ourselves that when we see something that seems ‘just not right’ – we should pay attention and take action. All 3 of these women were held captive by this man while neighbors, police, and family ignored the signs. We should all be paying closure attention – and Michelle Knight telling her story means she just maybe she will save someone else from the horror she experienced.

    • Tish says:

      I agree with you bgionti and Nancy. I cried so much watching this movie. My mother did not want to watch it because she said it was to hard for her to watch that. I said to hard for you to watch? What about what those three women endured, they actually had to live it. One of the saddest parts was Castro making Michelle watch the news about the other girls being searched for but nobody was looking for her. I think everyone should watch this and be more aware of whats going on in their own neighborhood. He took the cowards way out and I wish he would have stayed in there and become some inmates bitch. Very strong and emotional movie. My thoughts and prayers go out to all three of those girls. Strongest women I have ever seen.

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