**1/2 out of **** (Two and a Half Out of Four Stars)
Arguably the most controversial and high-profile ruling in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, the 1973 Roe v. Wade case (410 US 113) was and continues to be the dominant divisive issue in this country.
Generally, controversy and conflict aprovide primo subject matter for film and TV productions but the ongoing abortion debate is so contentious and such a hot potato, there have only been two movies made about the case thus far. The first — "Roe vs. Wade" — a TV movie from 1989 told from the "pro-choice" perspective — drifted so far from the acknowledged facts, the real name of "Jane Roe" a.k.a. Norma McCorvey was changed to Ellen Russell (played by Holly Hunter).
The co-lead in that movie — Sarah Weddington (Amy Madigan) — was McCorvey's green, upstart, hand-picked co-councilor who represented her during the trials in Texas and the Supreme Court. For reasons unknown, McCorvey's other lawyer (Linda Coffee) wasn't even a character in that film. Both Hunter and Madigan were nominated for Emmy Awards (Hunter won). Whether good or bad, any movie with these kinds of changes and factual omissions can't be taken seriously.
In the new film "Roe v. Wade" there is an inverse problem. What is presented as fact (from both sides of the argument) has been verified by multiple sources and all of the principal characters are non-fictional. Many of the events which led up to both the Texas and Supreme Court cases (which some ardent followers are unaware) are portrayed in great detail and neither side is presented in an absolute glowing manner. The screenplay is certainly better than the 1989 movie, but far too much of the acting is not.
Taking charge after the original filmmakers had opted out, co-writers/producers/directors Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn took on challenges which proved to be beyond their talent and experience levels. Neither had previously written, directed or produced anything. There are rumors and much industry scuttlebutt as to why Loeb and Allyn ended up being the final filmmakers and as these stories are unverifiable, they won't be eluded to or given any credence here.
Any movie's success as a work of art lies in the screenplay and the casting and the filmmakers get roughly 65% of it right here. The facts are made clear but also come with a noticeable tonal bias. Far too many of performers in key roles just aren't up to the challenge, especially Loeb who mistakenly cast himself as lead Bernard Nathanson.
A key proponent and practitioner of abortion in the '70s, Nathanson later became a right-to-life champion and produced the anti-abortion documentary "The Silent Scream" (1984) which he also narrated. The part of Nathanson required a performer of heft and range, something Loeb sorely lacks. Other key roles of McCorvey, Weddington, Coffee and activist Betty Friedan are given to performers with little to no dramatic feature film experience and it shows.
At the 40-minute mark, the narrative takes a noticeable upswing in content and performance level when it focuses on the behind-the-scenes wrangling and political maneuvering which took place among the Supreme Court justices hearing the case. Fully aware of the weight, gravity and long-lasting implications of their eventual ruling, some of the justices started showing signs of their own personal beliefs on the issue. Two justices had immediate family members who presented clear bias and as such, they should have recused themselves from hearing the case.
Add to this the fact that there were only seven justices and the waters become even murkier. Multiple perspective replacement nominees for retiring justices by then president Richard Nixon were rejected by the Senate. Although the case was ultimately ruled on by the usual number of nine justices, what took place before that happened should be of interest to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.
Even though all nine justice characters have speaking roles, the six given the most screen time are Chief Justice Warren E. Berger (Jon Voight), Byron White (John Schneider), Harry Blackmun (Corbin Bernsen), Potter Stewart (William Forsythe), William J. Brennan, Jr. (Robert Davi) and William O. Douglas (Richard Portnow).
It won't come as a surprise to Newsmax readers that Voight, Schneider, and Davi are conservatives and if it were just those actors in supporting roles, there probably wouldn't have been so much fuss. The movie began receiving noticeable liberal backlash when it was revealed that non-acting conservative icons Roger Stone, Tomi Lahren, Milo Yiannopolous, and "My Pillow" founder Mike Lindell were given cameo roles.
It's worth noting that Stacey Dash — a recent conservative defector — also has a key role as Dr. Mildred Jefferson and one of the film's 15 executive producers — Alveda King — plays Jefferson's mother, Guthrie.
When all is said and done, Loeb and Allyn had a golden opportunity to perhaps sway the opinion of some of those on the fence and either through vanity, misjudgment, desperation or sheer inexperience, they frittered it away. Wearing three filmmaking hats (or in the case of Loeb, four) the first time out of the gate was a misguided endeavor.
"Roe v. Wade" deserves high marks for some of the performances and most of the revealing, little-known past history and for those reasons alone, it's a worthwhile investment of your time and money. Just don't expect to be thoroughly wowed.
"Roe v. Wade" opens in theaters on April 2 and is now available on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/roe-v-wade/id1559069549?ls=1
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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