Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
There have been other stories of fertility doctors abusing their positions, and even a short-lived Fox drama built around the idea. Condensed into a documentary premiering on Netflix, “Our Father” captures the pain and betrayal associated with it, while diluting the message by filming and scoring the production using horror movie conventions.
Using dramatic recreations in subtle yet manipulative ways, the film methodically breaks down the actions of Dr. Donald Clinean Indiana fertility specialist who lied to his patients by using his own sperm to inseminate dozens of them.
The availability of DNA testing allowed those who gradually began to learn the truth to seek information about others, leading to what amounted to a private investigation due to the inability or unwillingness of local authorities to take action. against Cline, who was, ostensibly, a pillar of the community.
These events were sparked by Jacoba Ballard, who was understandably shocked to find that DNA showed she had multiple half-siblings. Director Lucie Jourdan proceeds from there to speak with others, including Cline’s parents, children and associates – who say they had “no idea” what was going on – exploring everything, of their stunned reactions to the mechanics of how the doctor could have gotten away with the practice for so long.
The production notes describe it as “an unimaginable breach of trust”, a message that comes through loud and clear. But the film gets murkier as it seeks to identify the motives for Cline’s actions, whether in his personality or his religious beliefs, while relying on creepy music and camera angles to unnecessarily embellish the material. (That horror movie factory Blumhouse is behind the project is sadly obvious.)
As noted, Cline isn’t the only fertility specialist to be accused of doing this, with the HBO documentary “Baby God” encompassing a similar story about a Las Vegas doctor. It’s nonetheless remarkable to hear one of the kids discuss discovering being connected to Cline while watching an episode of “Dr. Phil.
Netflix has had its share of success with similarly themed and executed fare, “The Tinder Swindler” being a recent example. The popularity of the true-crime genre, however, often comes with a viscous inclination towards submission to baser instincts, which is the case here.
The sense of violation that this story entails is almost palpable, and “Our Father” certainly conveys it. If only the filmmakers had trusted the audience enough to present it in a simpler way.
“Our Father” premieres May 11 on Netflix.
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