If you’re addicted to crime dramas, then you’ll want to check out Chris Chan’s DVD Review of Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.
“Message drama” is the bane of many television crime dramas. Not to name names, but many TV shows routinely produce subpar episodes when they decide to address a hot-button issue. The result is often overwrought, as one side of the issue is presented as noble and flawless, while the opposing side is depicted as pure, unadulterated evil. With impassioned speeches, sound bites, and talking points aplenty, “message drama” is common on shows that wish to present themselves as socially conscious and win awards. Unfortunately, the end result is usually dreadful and is unlikely to change the mind of anybody who might disagree with the perspective being pushed by the show.
Given the fact that few productions manage to address controversial issues in a manner that doesn’t come across as ham-fisted or overbearing in tone, it is remarkable that Gosnell manages to be an effective, restrained, and well-made film. Though the fact that it was made on a limited budget is clear, there are no missteps or any scenes that feel out of place. The film takes strong performances and efficient storytelling and tells the story of one of the most notable trials of the twenty-first century without theatrics or heavy-handedness.
The opening title card states that “Most incidents portrayed are exact representations of court transcripts, police interviews or eyewitness accounts.” Some characters are composites, or at least renamed, but the facts of the case, from the inadvertent discovery of the crimes at Gosnell’s clinic, to the careful handling of the case to prevent it from turning into a referendum on abortion rather than malpractice and neglect, to the media blackout of the case that was broken only by a social media outcry, are all presented without dramatics. It’s this absence of artificiality, deftly handled by Nick Searcy’s direction, that makes the movie all the more powerful. We’re seeing a real situation, not the distorting mirror of fictionalized drama that twists the truth for the sake of theatrics or pushing an opinion.
What really makes Gosnell memorable is its moral force that never veers into preachiness. The events depicted here are true factually, but they’re morally honest as well, and Searcy uses true crime to illustrate a case where authorities ignored a problem until circumstances forced a confrontation.
Whodunits are all about nobody knowing the truth about the crime (except the killer) until the detective figures out what happened. Gosnell is about what happens when a lot of people know the truth about a crime but don’t speak about it.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
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