(director/writer: Tony Kaye; cinematographer: Tony Kaye; editor: Peter Goddard; music: Anne Dudley; cast: Alan M. Dershowitz, Noam Chomsky, Nat Hentoff, Dallas A. Blanchard, Norma McCorvey, Peter Singer, Randall Terry, Frederick Clarkson, Bill Baird, Frances Kissling, Michael Griffin and Paul Jennings Hill; Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tony Kaye; ThinkFilm; 2007)

“Hardly seemed like the “definitive” film about abortion as it thinks of itself.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

British-born director Tony Kaye (“American History X”) weighs in on the always controversial abortion debate with this surprisingly even-handed documentary that is more to the middle, but that’s not to say it isn’t manipulative, filled with scare tactics and loaded down with shocking exploitative photographs. Kaye supposedly put up his own money and spent 17 years putting this provocative two and a half hours long piece together. But the more squeamish viewer should be warned there are unpleasant graphic images of actual abortions in this black and white film. For one thing he shows the torn arms and legs and crushed skulls of aborted fetuses as they’re placed on a steel tray, which is done to make sure a late-term abortion is complete; yet he doesn’t have any medical people around to explain things, so it’s up to extremists to tell us what we are seeing.

The film rolls on with a long list of talking heads spouting their side of the argument, with some on either side laying out rational arguments and others irrational ones. The ones interviewed range from “pro-life” advocates who are religious extremists (some who justify murder in the name of God) to atheists who are “pro-choice” and for the most part refuse to acknowledge anything is right about their opponent’s argument and that abortion is simply a medical procedure.

It opens in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to show the 2006 state vote on the strongest anti-abortion bill since the Supreme Court in 1973 made its ruling in the Roe vs. Wade conflict a favorable one to legalize abortions for the states. It then flashes back to 1993 and the anti-abortion “March for Life” in Washington, D.C., with a lively religious nut Randall Terry arguing to no avail with the enemy pro-choice group. It goes back and forth the rest of the way with no rhyme and reason trying to squeeze in as many points of view as possible, so that it’s likely it touched ground with most views.

Words are not as powerful in this film as are the violently graphic visuals–which are used to freak out the viewer. But with all the ground it covers and how relentlessly intense it is, it’s still a patchy work not likely to change opinions, elevate any deeper thinking, advance the debate with anything groundbreaking and does little to clear things up. It’s just another film on the controversy that adds to all the noise and emotional anger, and to me hardly seemed like the “definitive” film about abortion as it thinks of itself.

Incidentally, the title is derived from the hell that the religious fundamentalist believe awaits all sinners.

REVIEWED ON 12/10/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”