Dir.: Nick Searcy
Ranked: #3906 (9.90%)
While watching Gosnell: TTOABSK, I continuously drifted into a parallel universe fantasy in which this movie had been written and directed by Tom McCarthy, and starred Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams. The movie in that universe was made with considerable craft and subtlety, mixing the rhythms and nuances of real life with an austere aesthetic. In this fantasy, the plot focused not on the grisly details of the Dr. Gosnell case as much as the institutional issues that allowed his crimes to go unprosecuted for decades. That was a worthwhile imagined movie experience, but that was not the version directed by Nick Searcy and starring Dean Cain and Sarah Jane Morris.
The pro-life community — of which I am not a member, but with which I share some other interests — was atwitter upon the release of Gosnell: TTOABSK for the exposure it would bring to a truly hideous true crime story that has been largely ignored for ideological reasons. With Searcy, a respected actor (I know him, fondly, as Art from the FX series Justified) behind the camera, a script from conservative novelist and radio darling Andrew Klavan, and contrarian documentarians Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer in the production team, the excitement among anti-abortionists was palpable: no one would be able to ignore this important story now.
The sad truth is that Gosnell: TTOABSK is such an amateurish, trite, heavy-handed and misconceived mess that it threatens to turn its worthy subject into a joke. If it's unfair to compare Gosnell: TTOABSK to Spotlight, the 2015 Best Picture-winner which set the contemporary aesthetic and narrative standard for these kinds of issue films, then it shouldn't have been made it all. In this day overflowing with unemployed film school graduates, and in which streaming services are flooded with countless indie movies that demonstrate a high level of technical quality, there is no excuse for any professional movie project to be so thoroughly beholden to outdated production techniques and ham-handed scriptwriting crutches. By any artistic measure, it's a disaster; and, worse, no one involved seems to be aware that its utter lack of quality is what truly ghettoizes it.
However, ineptitude isn't by itself disqualifying. Plenty of badly made movies still possess the charm of a valiant effort, or an interesting idea, or a new performer peeking out from within the rough edges. Gosnell: TTOABSK not only has none of those features — though, Sarah Jane Morris gives the least offensively bad performance, and I'd like to see her again, working with talented people — it's either not honest with itself and with its audience, or it doesn't have the courage or intelligence to be the movie it claims to be. The phrase "not about abortion" must be uttered, in some form, ten times during Gosnell: TTOABSK, as police and prosecutors and bloggers and judges painstakingly attempt to focus on actual crimes without the interference of political baggage. However, Searcy's movie is so much about abortion that it chokes on its own insincerity with every protestation to the contrary. It doesn't attempt to present a clinical docudrama about a true life criminal proceeding, it attempts to use a human tragedy as a cudgel. It is, in fact, why the Dr.Gosnell case was ignored.
Some of the material in Gosnell: TTOABSK — most of which is claimed to have come from court transcripts and other official records — survives Searcy's heavy touch. The actual details of Dr. Gosnell's chronic medical malpractice are horrifying, and the most stridently anti-abortion scene, featuring Dana Delaney as a conscientious abortion provider who takes the stand in an attempt to provide an example of ethical practices in contrast to Dr.Gosnell, makes a provocative and emotional argument that should be considered. But even these relatively strong moments are draped in overemphatic acting and undermined by a relentlessly telegraphic musical score. Searcy has an uncanny talent for smushing anything good under layers of goopy and degrading manipulation. By the climax, when Searcy jaw-droppingly chooses to present a scene of Dr.Gosnell at work from the point-of-view of a soon-to-be-murdered baby, material that should have been sobering instead induces howls of laughter.
To cap it off, Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik provides an end credits song that is pure ear poison.