Gosnell – A Movie Review

Permit me, if you will, a brief aside before I begin my Gosnell movie review. As you will soon evidence for yourselves, I do not write movie reviews for living. In fact, I haven’t written one in a little over a year. I just haven’t been that excited about the Hollywood fare, and even if a movie pops up that I’m mildly interested in seeing, if it isn’t playing at my local theater, four miles away, I’ll wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray. There’s another theater in town, newer and nicer, ten miles away, but there’s a hassle with parking so…I just pass.

But a couple nights ago, there was a movie I wanted to see, so I drove down to see it… 347 miles… one way! In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the film’s “angels”. I contributed to the IndieGOGO crowd funding that put up the money to have this movie made. As such, I was invited to the Hollywood premiere of the film. It was worth the trip.

The picture starts with a stake out on a drug bust. Someone had been writing ‘scrips for prescription drugs like oxycodone, which were being sold on the street. Turns out some of those illegal ‘scrips were written out of the office of an abortion doctor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell. A raid of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic turned up a number of disturbing things.

The movie is part cop show, part procedural, part courtroom drama. This movie, based on a true story, has “ripped from the headlines” written all over it. Although, in fact, there weren’t that many headlines written about it. The movie touches on that. The story of the investigation, the arrest and the prosecution were all tinged by the “third rails” of race and abortion. The agencies charged with keeping abortion clinics safe, clean and hygienic were instructed not to inspect Gosnell’s inner city abortion clinic “unless there was a complaint”. And even though there were multiple complaints, officials managed to look the other way. During the grand jury hearing, we discover that nail clinics are inspected for cleanliness once a year, but Gosnell’s clinic went for seventeen years without an inspection.

When the cops arrived looking for drugs, the conditions were appalling. The smells…were unspeakable. There was filth and unsanitary conditions. We discover through grand jury and court testimony that when the restrooms were full, pregnant women sometimes were forced to urinate in the halls. Which no one cleaned up. They had that in common with the cats that roamed the clinic.

Kermit Gosnell is a peculiar man, almost charming in an old fashioned southern gentleman way. He keeps endangered turtles in his office, which he apparently cared for more than any human life. His manner and affectation was of someone who did nothing wrong, even famously plying the piano as police searched his house.

As I said, the movie is part cop show, part procedural, part courtroom drama. It’s a murder mystery that involved an abortionist. This is not an anti-abortion film per se. The only evidence of an anti-abortion position, was on the first day of the trial. Expecting a huge crowd of reporters, the prosecutors rolled up to the front steps of the courthouse, but there were only a half a dozen people on the steps. Two of them were guards or bailiffs, and way off to the side, there were two people setting up a card table, with some pro-life signs around them. Other than this fleeting glimpse, no one is preaching against abortion. It’s not a preachy film at all.

Although the crimes were quite horrific, this is not a graphically violent film. It’s rated PG-13. It shares a trait with the ancient Greek tragedies, where all of the violence occurred offstage. There are disturbing things described, including a powerfully moving photo taken by one of the clinic’s amateur nurses (Gosnell had children as young as fifteen administering anesthesia), which is shown to the jury and the gallery at the trial, but not to the audience. Yet for all the seriousness of the subject, there are some genuinely funny moments in the film from the wit of screenwriter Andrew Klaven, and the deft direction of Nick Searcy.

The story is powerful and moving. Do not be surprised if certain moments move you to tears. Director  Searcy, also playing the defense attorney, guides the story along nicely. Dean Cain plays the detective, whose drug raid lead to a murder investigation, who can’t understand why there isn’t a police report when a healthy woman enters an abortion clinic and ends up dead. Janine Turner, of Northern Exposure fame, portrays a legal abortionist who testifies as to what a clean clinic, with a properly trained staff should be. Ironically, her testimony scored points for both the defense and the prosecution. Sarah Jane Morris plays the pro-choice prosecutor walking the tightrope of prosecuting the abortionist but not attacking abortion. Earl Billings plays the title roll with a charming creepiness about him.

The acting and the production values are first rate. The story is compelling and the biggest question that may be in the mind of everyone leaving the theater is “Why didn’t I hear more about this when it was happening?”

I highly recommend this movie. It’s a crime that was overlooked, and a prosecution that nearly didn’t happen, in a movie that the networks and big studios didn’t want to make. While producers are doing reboots of ’80s TV shows, Rocky XVII and Fast and Furious 27, here is an original movie, factually based on a real story, with a large portion of the dialogue taken from the trial and grand jury reports, with an important story that needed to be told.

Last I heard, it was opening in 650 screens. Do yourself a favor and see it.

The trailer is here.

Photo by Miguel Discart Photos Vrac 2