Friday, October 12, 2018
Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer is a more than adequate horror film. Based on the true story of a irredeemable crime committed by a monstrous man, it's directed with cool competence by Nick Searcy, best known for his portray of federal marshal Art Mullen on Justified, who has enjoyed a long career as a reliable character actor. (Searcy also takes one of the best roles in this film for himself, as defense attorney Mike Cohan.)
In case you are not familiar with the crimes of Kermit Gosnell -- which of the makers of this film seem to believe likely, in part because of some imagined coverup by "liberal media" -- he was a Philadelphia doctor who in 2013 was convicted of first degree murder in the deaths of three infants who were born alive during attempted abortion procedures and of involuntary manslaughter of one woman who died during a botched abortion.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
83 Cast: Dean Cain, Sarah Jane Morris, Nick Searcy, Michael Beach, Earl Billings, Janine Turner
Director: Nick Searcy
Rating: PG-13, for mature thematic content including disturbing images and descriptions
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Gosnell was also convicted of 21 counts of illegal late-term abortion and 211 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law. He pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and is serving life in prison without parole.
Independent filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McIlhenny wrote a book on Gosnell, the basis for this movie. They are pro-life advocates and their first priority is to make people aware of these atrocities.They obviously believe Gosnell is emblematic of a certain moral deficiency in this country and hope that by forcing people to look at his crimes they might achieve some social good.
Arguments could be made counter to this viewpoint; the actions of a criminal performing illegal acts are just that. But for the purposes of this review, let's just look at the cinematic virtues of Gosnell.
And they're all right. Pretty good, in fact.
The film is heavy-handed but it moves well, and for the most part the actors are watchable. (The exception, somewhat surprisingly, is former TV Superman Dean Cain, who comes across as surprisingly wooden as a Philadelphia police detective whose narcotics investigation leads to some grisly discoveries in Gosnell's clinic. It's not that Cain is actually bad; he's just in a different key from the other naturalistic performances.) Sarah Jane Morris, who plays an assistant DA whose pro-choice views are challenged by the case, turns in a performance than can fairly be described as subtle. Janine Turner shows up in a cameo; most of the smaller roles are underplayed with dignity.
And Earl Billings, the actor cast as Gosnell, is very good as a bizarre and strangely courtly creature, the sort of ordinary monster that has become a genre type.
This is a professional production, always meeting and occasionally exceeding the standards for small-budget television drama.
It's best when it sticks closest to the court transcripts, proceeding in docudrama fashion. The verbatim words from the trial have an inherent dramatic weight. You can spot a few straw men here and there, but in general it's not overly preachy. It's got a point of view, and no obligation to be fair, but it's not deceptive like the movies produced by Dinesh D'Souza.
One might question who would see this movie other than people who support McAleer andMcIlhenny's mission. It's a dark, depressing film that, quite rightly, isn't played for exploitation. In a way, it reminds me of excellent abortion documentaries like After Tiller (2013) and Jackson (2017). You can respect those movies without believing they're going to change any hearts or minds.
MovieStyle on 10/12/2018
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