Directed by Paul Searcy (Justified, The Shape of Water)
Written by Andrew Klavan (True Crime, Don’t Say A Word)
Cinematography by Mark Peterson (Playback)
Music by Boris Zelken (Tucker Carlson Tonight)
Produced by Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, Magdalena Segieda, John Sullivan
Starring Dean Cain (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Nick Searcy, Michael Beach (Grey’s Anatomy, The Abyss), Earl Billings (What’s Happening!!, Thank You For Smoking), and Sarah Jane Morris (Seven Pounds, Underclassman)
With the releases of A Star Is Born, First Man, and Bad Times at the El Royale, there has been no shortage of films worth a trip to my local movie theatre. One movie packed an emotional punch, one movie left me impressed by superior cinematography, and one left me captivated by some of the best characters and character development I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time. Gosnell was different. Make no mistake, it was a gripping story that kept me captivated throughout, but I didn’t leave the theatre feeling that I was entertained. If anything, I was sobered by what I had seen, and I think above all, that was Director Nick Searcy’s reasoning for making the film.
Initially, the film was set to be shot as a movie for television, but instead became a feature film. Judging by the movie’s story, pace, and its depiction of events, I did feel at times that I was watching a double-episode of a TV crime drama. Rolling with a budget of $4.5 million, with $2.5 million in crowd funding alone, Gosnell certainly balled on a budget. While a rather low budget compared to Hollywood’s standards, the low budget didn’t negatively affect my viewing experience. I’ve seen my share of cheesy, B-rated flicks, and Gosnell was certainly a cut above with solid acting and competent screenplay. The film didn’t have any A-list actors, but it didn’t need any either. Dean Cain, Sarah Jane Morris, Nick Searcy and Earl Billings all played their parts well, especially Billings who played Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
The movie depicts Dr. Gosnell as a cold, calloused man who views all of his work as a service to his patients, nothing more. It is revealed in the movie that he isn’t ignorant of abortion laws, he just makes up his own interpretation of them to whatever suits him best. He makes no qualms when admitting to his attorney Mike Cohen (Searcy) that he routinely performs abortions past the 24 week mark of gestation. He also believes that his staff are all properly trained by him to administer medication to patients, despite none of them being registered nurses or having any legal, medical training. Billings depicts what one would imagine a cold-blooded killer would be like – someone without any remorse, and someone who refuses to acknowledge that anything that he has done is wrong, and is genuinely surprised when he is found guilty of any wrongdoing. I’ll not compare Billings’ performance to that of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, but he was rather convincing in his performance in Gosnell.
There was suspected foul play involving improper drug prescriptions from Gosnell’s Philadelphia-based clinic, so a search warrant was issued, and Detective Wood (Cain), alongside the FBI, searched the premises. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was not there upon their arrival, but there was plenty else to keep them occupied. Immediately after entering the clinic, the agents were met with dozens of cats, poor lighting, filthy conditions, and a putrid smell. Based off of the reaction from the police and federal agents, none of them had ever set foot inside of an abortion clinic, and weren’t sure if it was normal for an abortion clinic to be as unsanitary as Dr. Gosnell’s. But Wood stumbled upon something in the kitchen: numerous babies’ feet placed into jars. There had been many warning signs of malpractice in the clinic up to this point, but this confirmed to Wood that the scope of the investigation had increased from just improper drug prescriptions. Finally, Dr. Gosnell arrives.
Showing no sign of panic at the sight of dozens of federal agents in his clinic, Gosnell greets the agents, and asks if there’s anything he can do. He has just returned from a trip to the store, and has brought with him food for his extremely rare turtles that live in the clinic’s lobby. The man loves his turtles. He remains calm while feeding the turtles and even retreats to a patient’s room and carries out an abortion. He returns back with a bloody bag, contents unknown, and feeds it to one of his cats in front of the agents. Since Wood doesn’t know what to make of what he witnessed at the clinic, he reports his findings to Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Alexis McGuire, and convinces her that further investigation into Dr. Gosnell is warranted.
Once Wood and McGuire arrive at Gosnell’s residence for further questioning and investigation, they are met with a laid back Gosnell who proceeds to offer them breakfast while he fries some eggs. Even as they search his home for evidence of malpractice, Gosnell plays the piano in his living room, as if no one else is home, and he is in his own world. Unfortunately for Gosnell, McGuire has enough evidence to build a case.
Image via Philadelphia Weekly
Since the film’s release, Gosnell has received mounting criticism as more of a political hit job against abortion. In recent weeks, numerous theatres nationwide have discontinued the film’s showing, despite solid numbers. (https://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekly&id=gosnell.htm) Even though the number of theatres showing the film has decreased, it is still faring well at the box office, and should eclipse the film’s budget. In regards to theatres dropping Gosnell, Searcy has been furious and has accused the radical, left-wing media of shutting down his freedom of speech. The director claims that he made Gosnell to begin an honest discussion on the issue of abortion. He even went to great lengths to diffuse charges that his motives were political.
It is revealed in the movie that ADA Alexis McGuire, the attorney in charge of the prosecution, is pro-choice. District Attorney Dan Molinari (Beach) makes it clear to McGuire that the case is not to be tried as an abortion trial, but as a murder trial, specifically targeting the babies that were killed after being delivered by Dr. Gosnell, not the ones aborted in the womb. Also, the judge presiding over the grand jury would only hear the case if the case was tried as a murder trial, reiterating what DA Molinari had previously said. The biggest indicator of Searcy refusing to make Gosnell solely about abortion was the fact that the picture of “Baby A” was not shown in the film. Instead, we rely upon the jury’s reaction to the picture as evidence of its grotesque nature. This picture proved to be crucial in convicting Dr. Gosnell of murder, but thankfully was not shown to the movie viewer.
As I stated earlier in the review, I was sobered by Gosnell, but I was also impressed by it. I appreciated the movie’s candor in telling the gruesome story that I’m sure has made many people uncomfortable. There are areas that I could nitpick regarding the film’s limited budget and its unrealistic depictions of police officers and attorneys being so heavily involved in autopsies, but as with any movie, there are exaggerations to sensationalize. All in all, Gosnell is worth the watch, and I challenge any who watch, to do so with an open mind.
I’m going to give Gosnell 75%.
I’ve never heard of the film, but it sure picked an interesting subject to say the least. I can imagine it would be quite a daunting sit.
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