1991, PG-13, 122 min. Directed by Randa Haines. Starring William Hurt, Christine Lahti, Elizabeth Perkins, Mandy Patinkin, Adam Arkin, Charlie Korsmo.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 16, 1991
Overly earnest but satisfying, The Doctor prescribes an old-fashioned remedy for the summertime movie doldrums -- it's actually a movie for adults. Adapted from Ed Rosenbaum, M.D.'s autobiographical book A Taste of My Own Medicine, the film is a tale of redemption, one in which a heart surgeon without a heart learns to appreciate what it's like to be a patient after he's diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his vocal cords. As the detached and dispassionate physician blind to the human element in his occupation, Hurt is perfect. His aloof, WASPy demeanor has never been better used. Once his character becomes a kinder, gentler doctor, however, the halo doesn't quite fit. As played by Hurt, the good doctor goes from acting smug about being successful and rich to acting smug about being successful, rich, and caring. (It's a transformation that smacks of the Hypocritical oath.) Still, The Doctor is a thoroughly engaging movie, even when its screenplay goes a little awry. Perhaps it works because it plays on the notion that the medical profession has lost touch with its purpose, that is, to act as an emotional and physical caretaker of the sick. (One wonders what the AMA thinks about this film, given its rather unflattering depiction of the profession.) The most crystalline moment in The Doctor comes when the fey Perkins, a fellow patient befriended by Hurt, politely but resolutely asks him not to give her any false hope about her seemingly hopeless condition. (She has an inoperable brain tumor.) Perkins' tranquil strength in this role is downright inspirational; she glows with an inner peace that defies cliche. Also, special mention must go to Ken Adam's set and art direction, which captures the unworldly sterility of hospitals and waiting rooms. As depicted in The Doctor, these are places where human emotion is far removed. By the film's end, however, there's hope that this environment can change for the better. That's the sentimental beauty of The Doctor: it makes house calls.