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Protocol-7 Review: Turning Cinema into Soapbox

A doctor looks down a microscope holding a pen in the film Protocol-7

Barring intense legal scenes, Protocol-7 foregoes thoughtful plot development for the sake of a charged message that feels forced in its most crucial moments.

Director: Andrew Wakefield
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 98′
US Release: May 31-June 4, 2024 (NY & LA), followed by more cities in US & Canada
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in theaters

Writer-director Andrew Wakefield concludes his film, Protocol-7, with a charged message: “This film was made for you, so you might explore important issues and decide accordingly. You are the jury.”

For nearly ten years, the conspiracy about Big Pharma company Merck and their attempts to mislead people on the effectiveness of their measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has been a topic of contention in both political and medical circles.

The idea that the MMR vaccine directly causes autism is what cost writer-director Andrew Wakefield his medical license and credibility among doctors and scientists across the world. As a whistleblower on what he perceives is a Big Pharma conspiracy, he endeavored to raise awareness with a documentary called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe (2016).

His first narrative feature, Protocol-7, repackages his experience and presents a conspiracy with Merck that goes all the way to the top. While the film clearly bears a stark message that a host of viewers may not agree with, it does not start as an overtly anti-vaccination film. Its narrative, based on a true whistleblower story, relies on revealing the darkness of corporate espionage.

As a film about a medical conspiracy in which money-hungry CEOs choose to deceive the public to hold onto their power, Protocol-7 is not quite original. In fact, it falls into the clichés of an espionage film many times: “it’s all there. All the evidence you need to take them down,” one whistleblower states. These overused lines take away from whatever weight Wakefield was trying to convey. For a dialogue-driven film, the script left me looking to the decent acting, bland score, and disjointed screenplay for little respite.

Protocol-7 succeeds in showing Big Pharma as an evil entity that shouldn’t be trusted (which is obviously the primary message) by making every Merck employee completely irredeemable, arrogant, and ignorant. The result is a group of one-dimensional doctors and corporate employees who serve the plot’s progression and feel more robotic than real. This brings stark contrast between them, Merck’s whistleblowers, and the Koprowski family, whose son has a bad reaction to the MMR vaccine and starts displaying signs of autism. Lexi (Rachel G. Whittle), the mother and a family lawyer, devotes her time to discovering what’s really going on behind the scenes at Merck. While her character is the most nuanced and real, her husband Josh (R. Brandon Johnson) and the dynamic of their family is underdeveloped.

Protocol-7 (Abramorama)

The film is at its best during its legal scenes in the third act. They’re fast-paced and bring a level of intensity that finally puts the viewers on the edge of their seats. Yet the well-crafted deposition scenes end, and the film’s most brazen soapbox moments ensue. One earlier scene is quite straightforward in claiming that if you’re anti-vaccination, and if you question the authority of Big Pharma, you will be hated by all (an unrealistic over exaggeration). The ending builds on this, becoming pure political messaging: it sounds more like an Andrew Wakefield manifesto than a thoughtful and reasoned message depicted through artistic prowess.

Protocol-7 may be profound for the anti-vaccination crowd, and it does bring an interesting whistleblowing story to the big screen, but ultimately is not a satisfactory cinematic experience. It chooses to forego artistic storytelling and thoughtful plot development for the sake of a charged message that feels overwhelmingly forced in its most crucial moments.

The film’s closing slides are poignant. Using critical thinking and personally investigating important cases in medical history that deeply impact people is vital, but the hours leading up to them rely on unabashed personal talking points, stereotypes, and poor development.

Protocol-7 will open theatrically in New York on May 31 (Look Dine-in Cinema) and in LA on June 14 (Laemmle Royal) and will then expand to multiple US cities and Canada. There will also be Theatrical On Demand® Premiere Screenings powered by GATHR® on May 29, 2024.

Protocol-7: Trailer (Abramorama)
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