Sidney Lumet shows why he is a unique voice in the American cinema with his take on the state of medicine in this country. Mr. Lumet, working on the screen play by Steven Schwartz, based on Richard Dooling's excellent book, presents us a story about what's wrong with our health care system. His acerbic take on the way some physicians conduct themselves goes underneath the surface as he explores what happens when there's a complication as a young doctor is drawn into a family drama that involves the hospital where he is an intern.
If you haven't seen the film, maybe you would like to stop reading.
We are taken to an new intensive care unit of a big hospital. Everything is so impersonal that one doesn't get any feeling of warmth in the way the people are seen in their beds, as they are being treated from different ailments. Young doctor Ernst is an intern assigned to that area. He shows signs of fatigue because of his long hours on duty.
Our attention is directed to the patient on Bed 5, an older man who is comatose. His younger daughter, dressed to the nines, comes to pay a visit that seems more of an excuse to flirt with the doctor, rather than her concern about the state of her own father who doesn't show any signs of life. Dr. Ernst is dazzled by the beautiful Felicia. When he asks her to go to dinner, she accepts all too readily.
At the same time we are introduced to the head nurse of that area, Stella, a woman who has seen suffering and death frequently. She goes to assist Bed 2, a young black man who has a kidney problem. All this patient wants is to die. Who can blame him? His parents, on the other hand, have a different idea. This man is visited by a sinister figure who stands, as a devil figure. Stella wants to help, but she her hands are tied.
Young Dr. Ernst has his own troubles. He works for a doctor that keeps paging him, but when he goes to his office, the man, doesn't even remember calling him. This man is suffering from a loss of memory caused by his heavy drinking. Dr. Butz is the worst nightmare as the head of the department. All he cares is about if the patient has an insurance policy that will pay whatever he, and the hospital will demand. Bed 5, alone, has been billed for more than a hundred thousand dollars!
Dr. Werner Ernst in a moment of carelessness falls for Felicia's charms. Little does he knows that she is using him for her own greedy purposes. Felicia, and her sister Connie, are battling because of the clause in their Bed 5 father's will. A lot of money is at stake; each woman is fighting for it in their own dirty way. Dr. Ernst has an epiphany when the nun-like figure comes into Bed 5's room and confronts the doctor with some facts that resonate in the young doctor.
Finally, everything comes to a head as the two sisters bring law suits against the hospital. This is when the legal system comes into play. We see the ugly faces of all the different factions. In a great confrontation at the end of the film, we see all different lawyers and doctors as they prepare to fight. Dr. Ernst, in a daring moment gets the warring parties together.
James Spader, as Dr. Ernst, is nothing short of perfection. His take on this young intern, in the middle of the mess that has been created around him, is amazing. Helen Mirren, as Stella, the kind nurse makes another invaluable contribution to the film. Kyra Sedgwick, is Felicia, the pretty young daughter who doesn't care about the dying father. Margot Martindale plays Connie, the other sister. Jeffrey Wright is the patient Bed 2 in a great performance. The surprise of the film though, is Albert Brooks, whose Dr. Butz is one of the best characters of his career. The rest of the cast is first rate.
Sidney Lumet is to the congratulated for tackling this thorny issue about what's wrong in the country in the fields of medicine, law, and insurance.