THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE GOOD DOCTOR"
After starring in two mega-blockbuster franchises - Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lord of the Rings - Orlando Bloom was at the top of every Hollywood casting director's wish list. He was as hot as hot can be. But after snagging lead roles in several movies that tanked, Elizabethtown and Kingdom of Heaven chief among them, one of the trade papers wrote an article arguing that he was not really a star, that he had merely been lucky enough to appear in those popular franchises. That piece changed the industry perception of him, and he abruptly stopped getting decent parts. Bloom may not be a star, but the new independent thriller The Good Doctor proves that he is a damn fine actor. He gives one of the best performances I've seen so far this year.
Bloom plays Dr. Martin Blake, a first-year resident at a large hospital. He hopes to get a fellowship to work in infectious diseases, but that entails impressing his not-easily-impressed supervisor, Dr. Waylans (Rob Morrow). There's also the matter of a testy nurse (Taraji P. Henson) who doesn't shy away from undermining him at every turn. Blake's fortunes change when he begins treating an 18 year-old patient named Diane Nixon (Riley Keough) for a kidney disorder. The two form a bond; she's the only one at the hospital who seems to think he's doing a good job. Blake soon becomes obsessed with Diane and, in a bid to both keep her nearby and to beef up his job performance, begins to sabotage her treatment so that he can later “cure” her.
There are two ways to play this material: as exploitation/horror or as psychological drama. Director Lance Daly and screenwriter John Enbom wisely choose the latter. The Good Doctor doesn't turn Blake into a monster or a mustache-twirling villain. Instead, it creates a portrait of a man acting out of sheer desperation. Blake wants very much to prove himself a capable, even exemplary, physician. This leads him to make one unethical choice, and that in turn forces him to make more unethical choices in order to cover up the first one. He is a fascinating character, sincere in his desire to heal patients, while also brazenly self-protective. The film is an observant examination of cognitive dissonance, the torment felt by a person who is simultaneously holding two completely opposite values. Where it takes him is uncomfortable and creepy.
Bloom gives a powerfully quiet performance. Blake barely ever raises his voice. Everything is registered in his face. The actor effectively shows us the character's constant inner anguish, as his actions repeatedly betray the Hippocratic Oath he has sworn to uphold. Bloom gives Blake a nervous, twitchy energy, as though he has become so unglued by his inability to prove himself that he wants to crawl out of his own skin. About 2/3 of the way through the film, there is a long shot of Blake essentially looking right into the camera. Bloom registers every pained emotion and what have I done? flagellation the character is experiencing. It is a haunting moment.
The Good Doctor would have benefited from a slightly longer first act, so that we could have known more about Blake and perhaps sensed where his ambition comes from. Although well-played by Keough, Diane is a less developed character than Blake is; more depth to her would have deepened our understanding about their bond. Also, the final shot seems oddly abrupt. Still, Daly gives the picture an eerie visual style (most evident in a menacing low angle shaky-cam shot of Blake barreling down a flight of stairs) and a taut pace. The Good Doctor will hopefully be the start of Phase Two of Orlando Bloom's career. He doesn't need to be a star. As beautifully as he portrays Dr. Martin Blake, he should stick with being a really interesting character actor.
( out of four)
The Good Doctor is rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing situations and some crude sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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