Rated: 2.5 / 5
Criminals often attract their intellectual inferiors and manipulate them into abetting their crimes. […] As the murderous dictators of history have noticed, a good smattering of “revolutionary” politics helps motivate followers to do terrible things — all in the name of helping the less fortunate.
— Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer
So thanks to Twitter user Christian Toto (please tell me this guy lives in Kansas; actually, it would be better if he used to live in Kansas), who apparently noticed my Twitter account and also hopefully my website, he invited me to see an early screening of the film Gosnell (full title is Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, but I’m not going to type all that shit, not even for the title; especially when it could refer to the size of his belly rather than the number of babies he butchered [though he probably did butcher a bunch of fried Chinese chicken with his diet]). And I gotta say, when I saw the trailer and a sneak-peek clip of the film prior to seeing the actual film, it just looked like a glorified Lifetime/Hallmark film in the same vane as Michael (that 90s movie with John Travolta). So I wasn’t expecting too much, in spite of the controversy surrounding the film (which I’ll get into later).
However, the first act of the film fully exceeded my expectations. In fact, I dare say I found it riveting. The first act stands out from the rest mainly by acting as a police procedural. And this is when the film is at its strongest. Finding links to small-time drug dealers who they convince to give up names of their sources eventually leading to the Gosnell clinic, where they expect to do a major drug bust, but then uncover something beyond anything they were expecting. Something so insane that they were entirely unprepared for it. One of the messiest, most disgusting abortion clinics in existence. Trash bags everywhere, cats running around loose unrestricted, catshit here and there. And a cabinet full of jars with unborn baby feet in them. It’s basically like you’ve walked into the residence of Ryan Reynold’s character from The Voices. Not much different when you get to Gosnell’s actual place of residence. It’s too bad Dean Cain wasn’t playing Superman, otherwise he would’ve saved the day easily; somehow.
Then the 2nd act comes which is also fascinating in its own way, where they discuss how things will be handled in the upcoming trial many higher-ups don’t really want to have happen. Because it’s a trial (which takes up the 3rd act) which will inevitably bring up abortion. And abortion is a very hot topic. The only thing hotter than that is pedophilia. So if a movie was made about some sick doctor taking a baby out of the womb and having sex with it before late-term aborting it, then you’d have the most controversial film ever made (A Serbian Film came pretty damn close to that; I won’t bring up THAT image in this review).
So now that the last sentence of the previous paragraph appropriately desensitized you, let me talk about the book for a minute and compare it to what’s happened in the movie so far, because this is some really nasty shit. The way that abortion clinic is portrayed in the film, it is downplayed compared to how it was in reality. There was more than just trash bags, cats (which had fleas), catshit, and stuff like that. Piss and blood covered portions of the floor and walls. And not just the rooms where the abortions were carried out, we’re also talking the hallways. And the hallway designs were also a mess, designed unprofessionally, maze-like, and an emergency door that was chain-locked. The details get more sickening then that, but I won’t say anymore on that topic.
There’s also the example abortion nightmares Gosnell carried out in the past (this example is covered in the book, not in the movie). There was this one abortion he did to this one girl, and a couple days later after the abortion was finished, she started feeling stomach pains, and her chest/stomach started to get bloated. Then she started puking green liquid. Eventually her mother rushed her to the hospital. They saved her, but that was after doing surgery and pulling out an arm and a leg that was left over from the abortion Gosnell did. He didn’t pull out all the baby parts, and they were left in the womb to rot. I have to admit, that part of the book, that got to me. It made me too paranoid to read it while taking a dump; Lord only knows how queasy pregnant women would reading this thing.
Considering how graphic the book gets, it leads me to believe that it was the wrong decision to make this film PG-13. It should’ve been rated R. It should’ve been more explicit. On the other hand, I can chalk that all up to the low budget it had to deal with. And on that note, there’s a bit of a history to this film. So the film started as a crowdfunding campaign, starting on Kickstarter. But since Kickstarter is run by pricks, they cancelled the filmmaker’s crowdfunding campaign. But fuck’em, who needs them when IndieGoGo welcomed them with open arms? This allowed the filmmakers to raise a budget of over $2 million. Now again, that’s not very much by film-making standards, but that is huge when it comes to crowdfunding standards. But the repression didn’t end there. There was supposed to be an early screening for the film in September, in Texas, at a hotel. But Planned Parenthood (bunch of cunts) forced that to get cancelled because they put pressure on the hotel, which the hotel decided to cave into (for fuck’s sake, you’re Texas! You’re supposed to be the wild coyotes of conservatism in this country, and you let those asshats walk all over you? If you’re going to be that much of a pushover when it comes to your ideals, why not legalize marijuana while you’re at it?). It’s like The Red Fucking Pill all over again. Goddamnit, I hate this shit! At this point, I’m obligated to go out and pay money to see this at a local AMC theater (because fucking Cinemark won’t show it for some reason, even though they didn’t have much of a problem showing Death of a Nation), even though I’ve already seen the damn movie, and even though I had some issues with it (why else do you think I gave it the 2.5 rating?).
Regarding the issues I had with the film. Like I was saying, the first act was fairly solid, even if it pulled some punches with how it depicted the abortion clinic. But then there were a couple moments that made me question just how accurate the film was towards depicting the actual events. It started with this one blogger chick, Mollie Mullaney (played by Cyrina Fiallo), how she seems all-knowing when it comes to the case, and how she’s responsible for showcasing the media absence during the trial, and thus caused a chain-reaction to get the media to show up during the trial. Well it turns out I was right to question her role, because it’s a fictional one. Her character is inspired by J.D. Mullane, a local Philadelphia reporter (ie not a blogger like her, and is male) who took the actual photograph of the empty seats where the press is reserved to sit.
Now I know films like these are meant to take some creative liberties for the sake of drama and such. And I know they sometimes take creative liberties for the sake of time compression or simplicity and thus either remove characters entirely or compress 2 or more characters into one person (like what Patriots Day did with Mark Whalberg’s character). But this one irritated the hell out of me. Not just because they replaced the character with a completely made-up one (which is bad enough), but also made her too good at her job, better than law enforcement when it came to knowing things. But I know why they did it. This is a film that wants to sacrifice elements of accuracy for the sake of slipping in elements of inspiration. They want people to be inspired by this character, so those people will go out and seek the truth for themselves, and not from second-hand sources or the unreliable media. The film-makers want people to do that, and spread the truth themselves for the sake of inspiring good. Problem is, the story as-is already does that. Sure the real-life story doesn’t have these blog/Twitter/Instagram elements to it, but the message is the same. It’s a strike against the movie for me.
The second issue is with the lead protagonist, Alexis “Lexi” McGuire (played by Sarah Jane Morris). This character puzzles me. She’s based off the real life assistant DA Christine Wechsler, who did much of the work during the investigation and grand jury portions of the story, only to be replaced by Joanne Pescator and Ed Cameron (she wasn’t replaced against her will, it was just the mental strain of doing the job on top of taking care of 2-3 kids with another on the way). It’s puzzling because this character doesn’t seemed to be named after any of them. But in any case, it’s not that she’s a fictional character representing all 3 of those individuals so much as her character becomes more preachy than the fucking blog girl. It didn’t really bother me until this one moment in the film when James shows her the picture of “Baby Boy A”, while she’s at her daughter’s piano performance in public, which causes her to break down. I knew this had to be made-up; this film had to be doing this for cheap dramatic affect.
And sure enough, this incident was made up. In fact, the picture evidence of “Baby Boy A” was already known, before the trial even began, confiscated during one of the police warrant searches at Gosnell’s clinic. And it wasn’t shown to jurors in such a dramatic fashion (it’s clear this disturbed the film-makers and/or screenwriters more than it did the jury, most of which were pro-choice). It also didn’t help that the film gets really fucking preachy with her character, showing how a child’s life is special.
Here’s the thing. The same goal could’ve been reached if the film played it straight as a police procedural, and as a courtroom drama (while staying as accurate as possible while deviated as little as you can). Just discussing the details of what happened (or more correctly, what went wrong) with many of the abortions Gosnell did would be enough to give many women nightmares, and make people reconsider their stances on pro-choice (at least to the point where they would think twice before considering late-term abortions). The problem is that this subject matter can have a broader scope than that. There’s some serious corruption at work here with health departments when it came to overlooking, ignoring, or dismissing the crimes and unsanitary conditions of that clinic. Personally, I lean more pro-choice myself. And I’d imagine most, if not all, pro-choice women would want to have abortions done right, in clean clinics, by certified hospital staff who knew what they were doing; as opposed to having it done at a clinic that reeks of rot and puke and cat piss, with expired drugs and non-sterile medical equipment that has a chance of giving you some STD, while being handled by nurses who aren’t actually certified and are likely mentally unstable drug junkies, half of which sleep with Gosnell on the side.
But the movie instead opts to focus on Gosnell needing to be put away because what he was doing was wrong (and it was), for the ethical good. And it wants to force in some “children are special” message where it’s not needed. To be fair, this film didn’t do it anywhere near as much as I feared it would, but it was still annoying when it was done. This is a film that needed a bigger budget (don’t think it needed too much more), needed a hard R rating, and needed to focus more on the police raid of Gosnell’s clinic and home during the first act, and focus more on the grand jury for the 2nd act, and spend a little less time on the trial during the 3rd act and more on how the media attempted to downplay this and how the lawyer tried sneaky tactics to try and get Gosnell off, and focus on speculating what the jury would think of all that was uncovered during the grand jury (much of which wasn’t allowed to be used during the actual trial). There is a lot of potential there to make a movie far better than the one we got.
That being said, at least we got a movie about this event. At least we got something that will draw more people’s attention to it, and make them curious to learn more about it (as it got me to do by checking the book out from my local library). And considering how badly it seems some of these corporations, like Kickstarter and Planned Parenthood, want to silence this film, it’s doing something right. It’s not enough to satisfy a hard-ass critic like myself, but it may be enough to satisfy others who go out and see it. And despite my rating, I strongly recommend doing so just to stick it to ’em. I’m getting tempted to get rid of my fucking Kickstarter account after learning about this shit.
Bottom line, recommended just on principal. Don’t expect a masterpiece; don’t have your expectations high. It could’ve been better, but it’s decent for what it is.
PS: Oh right, Earl Billings, the guy who played Gosnell, totally killed it in the role. Easily the best performance in this.