Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
Directed by Nick Searcy
Released October 12, 2018

A subtitle in the name of a film allows the creative forces behind it to add commentary and context to what they believe their subject to be. A person’s name or a specific location might not denote its significance in history, and that’s where an additional phrase or line of text can help to define what it means to those who find its story worth telling. In the case of this new film about a doctor who frequently performed abortions that went awry, the use of the word “biggest” and the term “serial killer” indicates a clear slant on how its subject’s indisputably disturbing behavior should be viewed.

Detective James Wood (Dean Cain) and Assistant District Attorney Lexy McGuire (Sarah Jane Morris) find themselves highly unsettled when they discover the office of Dr. Kermit Gosnell (Earl Billings), who, in his extremely unclean space, had unlicensed employees frequently assisting in the medication of pregnant women and the termination of their pregnancies, which in some cases involved the birth of live babies who immediately had their spinal cords severed. As Dr. Gosnell and his defense attorney Mike Cohan (Nick Searcy) argue that he was an ethical physician and that pro-choice advocates simply want to take him down, McGuire presses on with her prosecution of a man whose crimes she believes are truly heinous and unforgivable.

Both lawyers stress in their speeches to the jury that Gosnell’s office was far from the cleanest, and the level of service he provided was on par with what his patients expected. When McGuire first takes the case, she is explicitly instructed not to make it about abortion, since the outcome of the trial could be easily politicized on both sides. Gosnell is portrayed as an unfeeling monster, who plays the piano when police arrive to search the premises (it actually happened) and seems proud of the work he does that others obviously consider abhorrent. It’s not hard to figure out where the producers of this film stand, and Searcy’s hotheaded, vicious performance as his defense attorney is telling given that he cast himself in that role.

After watching this film, it was unsurprising to learn that Searcy, best known to TV audiences for his role as Art on “Justified,” is an outspoken conservative, as is star Cain, and interviews Searcy has done place blame on Hollywood for not being willing to go near this film because of its perceived political slant. Its subject material is off-putting to an extreme degree, and the purposeful omission of a disturbing image, advertised as available only on the film’s website during the end credits, reveals just how the film wishes to frame its story. Cinematically, it’s clunky and feels extremely dated, and the dialogue is especially tired. Gosnell may be a notable and infamous figure, but this version of his story is a lackluster and trite courtroom drama, bolstered by an over-the-top title meant to sensationalize something that probably never needed to be made into a film.


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