When films are made on such ethical and moral issues as abortion one can’t expect them to be box office hits. There are no superheroes, no romance, no comedic moments, no fight scenes or car chases, and the only sex is a necessary past ingredient that isn’t even mentioned.
It is almost a given that they will not have great box office numbers. Critics ignore them and theaters refuse to show them. They aren’t politically correct.
Take “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,” which was released this month and is based on the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Philadelphia’s notorious abortionist was tried and found guilty in 2013 of three murders and various other charges and is now serving a life sentence in prison.
While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia were not on trial, during the proceedings it became apparent they turned a blind eye to what was happening in Gosnell’s filthy West Philadelphia clinic. Abortion had become a sacred cow and the official policy was abortion clinics were never to be inspected or investigated, not even cases where women were seriously injured through botched abortions or occasionally died.
What eventually caught up with Gosnell was a raid by federal agents and Philadelphia police because of a suspicion of dispensing illegal drugs. Through that raid and especially through the police work of Detective James Wood, the incredible filthy conditions and outright violations were exposed. After a grand jury investigation Gosnell, his wife and some of his staff were put on trial.
In the film it is the trial itself that takes center stage, and initially very few reporters were assigned to cover it. One who did was J.D. Mullane, a columnist at the Bucks County Courier Times, who literally shamed the rest of the press to pay attention by publishing on Twitter a series of pictures showing the rows of empty press seats.
The film itself takes some artistic shortcuts, for example the press is initially represented by a young blogger, Mollie Mullaney, who is a composite of Mullane and Mollie Z. Hemingway, a senior editor at the Federalist.
“I became a tattooed girl named Molly,” laughs Mullane, who on the whole thinks the film is very well done. In his recent column he compares the lack of publicity given to the film and the number of theaters declining to screen it as repeat of the press indifference to the 2013 trial.
He believes Earl Billings, who plays Gosnell, really captured him perfectly.
“I sat behind Gosnell at the trial close enough to tap him on the shoulder,” Mullane said. “I watched him closely, how he laughed and the smile on his face. Afterwards two jurors told me it was creepy.”
Mullane also believes Dean Cain, who plays Detective Wood, was very good.
“Jim Wood still does undercover work in Montgomery County and this was hard for him,” he said. “He told me he found paperwork (showing) there was one case where the abortion was done on the baby’s due date. The conditions inside the building was a hell-hole. Upstairs, where the white women from the suburbs were taken, was pristine but downstairs where the poor were, that’s where they had the chairs with dried blood on them.
Other than performing abortions well past the gestational age allowed by law, Gosnell’s technique was often to deliver the living baby and snip the spinal cord at the neck to kill it, which makes the act murder.
All of this was accurately discussed during the trial and in the film, and it certainly played into the guilty verdict which has Gosnell in prison for life. While it was clearly presented in the film, sensationalism was avoided. There are no graphic simulated abortions or images of fetuses or dead babies.
At the outset of the proceedings it was emphasized abortion was not the issue and every member selected for the jury said they were pro-choice.
If there was a telling pro-life moment it was the testimony of a doctor from an abortion facility that operated within the law, explaining how their procedure differed than Gosnell’s methods.
On cross-examination it was revealed that one of the methods they used did in fact kill the fetus or unborn child, inside the womb before extraction. The apparent difference between a legal abortion and murder can be just a matter of inches.
While Gosnell is playing in a limited number of theaters, Tom Stevens, the president of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, saw a pre-release screening at Malvern Preparatory School in September.
“It was very emotional, heavy to watch,” he said. “I think it was an excellent choice not to show the babies, but anyone watching (the movie) would recognize the truth of what it is, killing babies.”
Stevens, who was reached while participating in a prayer witness before a center city abortion clinic as part of the Forty Days for Life campaign, said, “We’ve had 10 women change their minds over the past several weeks.”
In spite of a concerted campaign to keep “Gosnell” out of major theaters and not to publicize or review it, the film it has done modestly well at the box office. It has taken in about $2.5 million in tickets sales since Oct. 12, a respectable sum for an independent film.
Locally it is still playing at the following AMC Theaters (show times can be found online):
AMC Philadelphia Mills 14 with IMAX
1149 Franklin Mills Circle
Philadelphia, PA 19154
AMC CLASSIC Granite Run 8
1067 West Baltimore Pike
Media, PA 19063 (Delaware County)
Warrington Crossing Stadium 22 + IMAX
140 Easton Road
Warrington, PA 18976 (Bucks County)
AMC Plymouth Meeting 12
500 West Germantown Pike
Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462 (Montgomery County)
Marketplace @ Oaks Stadium 24
180 Mill Road
Oaks, PA 19456 (Montgomery County)
AMC Neshaminy 24 with IMAX, Dolby
3900 Rockhill Drive
Bensalem, PA 19020 (Bucks County)
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