The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer is based on a profoundly disturbing true story. Kermit Gosnell was a Philadelphia doctor who performed abortions as late as eight months, had untrained staff members (sometimes teenagers) administer anesthesia, used unclean instruments on his patients, and kept the feet of aborted fetuses in jars. Most shockingly, he used a pair of scissors to clip the spinal cords of living babies. These are just some of the atrocities he committed. Gosnell was convicted of murder in a landmark legal case, and is currently serving life in prison.

That's tough subject matter. Gosnell handles it sensitively. Only subtle glimpses of the doctor's actions are shown, with characters describing them instead. Even without going full-on graphic, the film achieves real power.

Dean Cain plays Philly detective James Wood. He follows up a lead that a local doctor is illegally selling prescription drugs, and ends up walking into a virtual house of horrors. Appalled by what he sees in Gosnell's clinic, Wood convinces his friend Lexy (Sarah Jane Morris), an Assistant District Attorney, to pursue murder charges. Their joint investigation uncovers a seemingly endless array of violations. Gosnell (Earl Billings) maintains he's done nothing wrong, and subsequently hires a pit bull lawyer (Nick Searcy, who also directed) to defend him.

Gosnell fictionalizes a few of the real-life participants, but otherwise sticks very closely to the facts of the case. It certainly has no need to make anything up because the truth is shattering. Several sequences have an emotional quality that hits you in the gut. A big part of Lexy's case involves Baby A -- an especially large, late-term baby who had his picture taken by one of the doctor's employees after being aborted. The film never shows us the picture. Instead, the camera pans slowly down the line of jurors as they see it. Their facial expressions say it all. (That picture is available online with a simple Google search. It's haunting.) No discussion of Roe v. Wade exists here, yet the film does challenge you to consider the idea of babies who were so close to being born suddenly having their lives ended by an unethical man.

The film additionally addresses the way abortion's hot-button status impacts the trial. To cite just one example, a blogger, Molly Mullaney (Cyrina Fiallo), tweets out a picture of empty rows of reserved press seats in the courtroom. When it goes viral, major network reporters suddenly show up. (That really happened). One of the movie's major arguments is that, despite the unfathomable things Gosnell did, too many people were willing to look the other way because of the intense reactions provoked by the issue, on both sides.

Perhaps obviously, this is a movie that takes an anti-abortion position. Given its desire to do that, things are occasionally staged in such a way that they border on melodrama. Still, it's hard to fault any picture for having genuinely-held conviction. Even if a few moments don't quite ring true, the desire to argue a point of view is admirable, especially since the tone is sincere.

On the whole, Gosnell is a well-acted and compelling courtroom drama. Women suffered greatly under Kermit Gosnell's "care," as did babies who emerged alive. The story of what he did is, irrespective of the national debate on abortion, important to have told. The film tells that story passionately and with feeling.

( out of four)

Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including disturbing images and descriptions. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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