The successful team that brought us the sensitive and acclaimed "Children of a Lesser God" returns with another great emotional journey destined to turn our lives and views around. "The Doctor" reunites director Randa Haines and William Hurt in a powerful film that tells about the unexpected turns of life, the wake up call in which we stop, think about our past conducts and turn things for a more positive way. This little appreciated movie deserves a wider audience despite its mildly corny theme and the ones in more need of it are the ones depicted here: medical doctors.
A glimpse to the story: Hurt plays Dr. Jack MacKee, a respected man who thinks he knows it all, with a God-complex like most medical doctors tend to have and act who finds himself with the tables turned when he's diagnosed as having throat cancer and has to deal with what his patients had to deal in several bureaucratic ways. He gets a taste of own his medicine this time as a patient who deals with uncaring doctors who fail to show up in scheduled appointments, long hours waiting for his name to get called and the up's and down's about possible results, tests and treatments. MacKee is one of those arrogant guys who thinks he knows it all about his craft but doesn't know how to interact with his patients - his interactions with his fellow workers are beautiful, filled with jolly humored moments, as demonstrated right in the opening when they're listening to a "Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons" song during a surgery.
A common phrase I heard during the years is that "doctors are the worst patients". Hurt's character fits the criteria with such accuracy that it's almost painful to watch. He's impatient, nervous, doesn't know how to cope with his diagnosis without alienating his wife and kid, and even some of his colleagues. But he finds some light with another patient (Elizabeth Perkins), who has a brain tumor. She's the one who brings this guy back to earth, back to the common suffering people and allows him to see a better side of life despite she's being in a worst condition as his. Along with those more tender moments, we have parallel stories involving the way Jack deals with his wife (Christine Lahti) and kid (Charlie Korsmo), both of whom he alienates a little bit and she's the one who tries to be very supportive but gets blocked by him each time she tries while with the kid he doesn't know how to fully explain his torments; and a malpractice process that a fellow of his (Mandy Patinkin) is facing at the moment and he trusts that Jack will help him out with his testimony (I think the film went over its head with this segment since it didn't present a conclusion to it. Gripping sequences between Hurt and Patinkin in those but I was hoping for some closure with that, specially because of how close they were during medical proceedings, the most humored bits of the film).
Trust me, it's not like those TV melodramas that turn things around in a bright way in a fast time, this film has some interesting development and intelligent dialogues in which we understand each point of view with care and respect, and some touch of art as well (amazingly presented during Hurt and Perkins scene in the desert when she explains how she deals with her terminal condition). It's not a case of taking a jab on doctors or preachy about they act the way they do despite this work being an adaptation from a doctor who went through similar situations as presented in the film. And I even doubt that some MD will watch this movie...but if they do, it'll be a more poignant experience than for us present or future patients. It's not an attack on them, it's more a mere presentation of realistic facts that happen and it's never too late to change ways of conduct - my favorite scene in that example is when an intern forgets to mention the patient's name and just says that his case is a terminal one, to which Jack replies that the intern's career will be over if he ever say a similar thing again. In the past, he wouldn't care less and probably say the same but while being on the other side of the fence he sees the humanity of it all and think things over.
Mrs. Haines made a remarkable film again, even though this one was more sad than "Children of a Lesser God" and at times less satisfying; but I like her quality in making works where you actually feel part of the environment, you like the characters despite their flaws and it's always nice to revisit them, their places and situations because it genuinely feels like you're going back home and you truly understand everything about them. No rush, it's all quiet, calm and with an everlasting effect. And there's always room for humored moments that are more effective than if you were watching a comedy. "The Doctor" is truly inspired and reinvigorating, avoiding clichés and using some necessary ones, anchored with powerful performances that goes through your heart. 10/10