There is a moment in the new movie “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” when Assistant D.A. Alexis McGuire (played by Sarah Jane Morris) is met with a stonewall of resistance from a doctor who has just given her baby a check-up.
Having recently uncovered evidence that Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been running an illegal, unsafe abortion practice in West Philadelphia, McGuire attempts to probe what other local doctors might have known about him.
The doctor implies that the city’s medical community likely knew quite a bit, but offers no help and doubts that McGuire will find it elsewhere. “It’s abortion,” he says. “Nobody wants to touch that.”
There is a certain irony, then, that much of the mainstream should continue to disregard a film that depicts just how long America’s biggest serial killer got away with it, and how long the media ignored Gosnell’s infamous 2013 murder trial.
The movie was rejected by major distributors and could not even have been made if it weren’t for the resourceful crowdfunding campaign by its producers, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer (who also wrote a book on the subject). They managed to set a record on Indiegogo by raising more than $2 million in 45 days.
Since its release on Oct. 12, “Gosnell” has surpassed box office expectations. During its first week, the movie grossed over $1.2 million on just 668 screens, which is impressive for an independent film. Nevertheless, The Daily Wire reports that nearly 200 movie theaters are inexplicably pulling it after only a week.
Some patrons are saying that they were turned away before the theater had reached capacity. Some even claim that Facebook is actively suppressing ads for the movie.
According to the producers, a pre-screening at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, Texas, was shut down because it coincided with a Planned Parenthood fundraising gala. Few professional critics have even bothered to review it.
These things, perhaps, should come as no surprise. “Gosnell” tells the unpleasant, controversial story of the so-called doctor, Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of murdering three infants in the first degree.
In addition to the involuntary manslaughter of a mother, the Philadelphia jury also found him guilty on 21 felony counts of illegal late-term abortion and 211 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law. These crimes were likely just a small representation of all he did. Gosnell was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
“Gosnell” depicts the fascinating lead-up to these convictions, which begins with an illegal drug trafficking investigation by undercover Philly detectives James Wood (Dean Cain) and his partner Stark (Alfonzo Rachel).
At length, the trail leads them to the squalid office of Dr. Gosnell. The place was dubbed a “House of Horrors” by the grand jury, but despite complaints, it somehow escaped government inspection for 17 years.
When the detectives uncover the horrific conditions of Gosnell’s clinic, where cats roam freely, untrained teenagers administer anesthesia and aborted babies are stuffed into milk cartons, Assistant D.A. Lexie McGuire (a fictional composite of two real-life prosecutors) takes charge of the case against him. She puts up a relentless fight against Gosnell’s ruthless defense attorney (played by director Nick Searcy).
What unfurls is a staggering indictment of the neglect shown toward society’s most vulnerable—not just by Gosnell, but also by the supposed watchdogs of truth and justice in media and government. The film is a sobering depiction of the evil hidden in plain sight.
Earl Billings offers a compelling performance as the Hannibal Lecter-like Gosnell, whose appreciation for high culture and classical music contrasts sharply with his base moral depravity. Hidden beneath his charming, cardigan-clad persona is a cold, amoral killer.
He justifies to himself his mass slaughter of innocents by claiming he is the only one willing to go to such lengths to help underprivileged women. If he has to skirt around some laws to do so, then so be it: it is the law which is at fault.
Some of the film’s more shocking moments would appear too absurd and on the nose were they not, in fact, true: Gosnell tinkling the ivories while police inspect his disgusting, flea-infested basement; Gosnell and the judge showing more indignant, self-righteous concern for his endangered sea turtles than for the dismembered babies rotting in his fridge.
At one point, Gosnell flippantly observes that one baby boy is “big enough to walk me to the bus stop” before snipping his spinal cord. Much of the movie’s script, which was adapted by The Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan, was lifted from court transcripts and informed by the 280-page grand jury report.
Coinciding with Gosnell’s crimes and the government’s negligence is the scandalous disinterest shown by the media. For a long time, journalist Molly Mulaney (Cyrina Fiallo, in a composite of several journalists like Mollie Hemingway, John Mullane and Kirsten Powers) is the only one interested in the trial. At the time, Powers called out national media for their reluctance to cover the story, as well as their unwillingness to admit it.
When Mulaney publicizes a picture of the empty press benches in the courtroom (like John Mullane actually did), they are filled before long, and the trial receives the attention it deserves. Like the filmmakers themselves, the role of determined journalists in spreading awareness is one of the few inspiring moments in an otherwise tragic, depressing story.
As one reviewer noted, the movie sometimes feels like a “made-for-television true crime drama.” But the gravity of its content, as well as the accomplishment achieved by its producers in getting it made at all, will render such a thing forgivable to most viewers.
Though characters in the movie repeatedly make the point that the Gosnell story is about more than just abortion, one criticism which might be true is that it preaches to the choir, and will convince few people who have already made up their minds about the issue.
As McGuire observes when she is first realizing the enormity of the scandal, “Nobody wanted to say anything. Nobody wanted to know.”
Jon Brown is a Student Free Press Association journalism fellow with The Daily Caller. Follow Jon on Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.