Film review: Gosnell

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, October 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a review of the film Cal Thomas talked about on yesterday’s program, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. Here is our Megan Basham.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: In a sane world, the crimes of late-term abortionist-slash-serial killer Dr. Kermit Gosnell would receive the same Hollywood treatment as other horrifying true stories. Like Zodiac, Monster, and In Cold Blood. It would have a large budget, a prestige director, and A-list stars culminating in award nominations. But, of course, in a sane world the story would have received in-depth coverage from major media outlets as well.

Thus the theme of the movie is also the story of how it came to be made. As one character puts it, “[Gosnell’s] been killing babies for 30 years because nobody wanted to say anything. Nobody wanted to know.”

Fortunately, after fighting an uphill battle to get funding, the filmmakers do a tremendous job with the limited resources at their disposal.

Dean Cain plays detective James Wood—known as “Woody.” During what he thinks is going to be a routine drug bust, he receives a tip almost too astonishing to be true. It’s about a house of horrors in a Philadelphia abortion clinic. The conditions he and his partner discover are unspeakably unsanitary. Cats defecating in the halls and medical waste sitting alongside food in the fridge.

Then they come upon a room containing babies’ feet persevered in jars and hear the nurses describe Dr. Gosnell’s practice of “snipping” the spines of living infants. That’s when they realize their informant vastly undersold the true extent of the situation.

AUDIO: What would happen then? After the babies came out? Doc or somebody would snip it. Snip it? He would take scissors and cut the back of their necks. He taught everybody how to do it so it could be done if he wasn’t there. He did it to all of them, even the ones that wasn’t moving. Some of the babies were moving?

The film is rated PG-13 for realistic language and violent images. Which is reasonable. The biggest danger with a story like this is sensationalizing the more gruesome elements. Letting the story unfold naturally as a police and courtroom procedural, actor/director Nick Searcy wisely errs on the side of understatement. He trusts the facts to speak loudly enough to the audience without his needing to hammer home a message.

And the facts are these—the law regarding late-term abortion is morally muddled in the extreme. That’s why Woody and assistant district attorney Lexi McGuire—played by Sarah Jane Morris—face a huge task trying to prove that Gosnell’s slaughter of countless babies and one mother qualifies as serial killing—not simply some form of gross medical malpractice. Just deciding to take the case to trial forces Lexi—a pro-choice mother of five—to confront the deeper implications of what she says she believes.

AUDIO: You’ll be the prosecutor who went after reproductive rights, an activist ADA, and you’ll be a racist to boot.

There’s nothing that man did illegally in 30 years that protects women or children. And you don’t have to be a pro-life activist to see that.

During cross examination, the inherent irrationality of our nation’s approach to abortion law stands out in stark, neon relief. Particularly effective is an ongoing discussion of the implications if Gosnell first “emptied the heads of the fetuses.” Quite literally, that means if he had removed the babies’ brains before removing them from the womb—as is the common practice for abortionists—the murders he carried out might not have been crimes.

Thankfully, the performances, production, and pacing of the movie more than do justice to the difficult subject matter. Cain and Morris are both likeable, effective leads. and the series of women playing Gosnell’s clinic employees are uniformly impressive.

But a lion’s share of credit must go to Earl Billings as Gosnell. He is at one moment blandly compliant and at another arrogant in his rock-solid confidence that the third-rail of so-called women’s health will prove too charged to ever allow his conviction. His smiling, self-assurance that he’s a hero to the poor, minority women who visit his clinic is the stuff of nightmares.

AUDIO: But you are aware there are laws governing the licensing and training medical personnel?

These laws. They’ve always struck me as being politically motivated. The enemies of abortion erected them to create barriers between women and my services. I have no respect for these laws whatsoever. These poor women who need me have nowhere else to go.

Both as director and in his role as Gosnell’s attorney, Searcy is smart enough to make as strong an argument as possible on the abortionist’s behalf. He refuses to flinch from the real-life allegations that race and religion played a role in his arrest.

AUDIO: And if you stay true to your oath and you look at the facts, you’ll see what I see: An overly zealous, Catholic, investigator in a police department dominated by Catholicism and a targeted, racist, prosecutorial lynching of a man who has done nothing but serve the citizens of West Philadelphia for decades in neighborhoods they wouldn’t even set foot in.

In fact, the most persuasive case he makes in Gosnell’s defense is that while his practice may have been sloppier than other clinics, it was no more inhumane.

Perhaps we should be glad after all that mainstream Hollywood, just like the mainstream media, had no interest in this story. It’s almost impossible to believe they would have told it so well.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Photo/Hat Tip Films)

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