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Non-Review Review: The Good Doctor

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

Much like its protagonist, there’s something not quite right about The Good Doctor. It’s undoubtedly fascinating, as a young doctor makes a series of questionable moral decisions that lead to a variety of uncomfortable situations, but there’s no real internal life to the movie. You can see what is happening, and you realise the consequences, but the script and Orlando Bloom’s headlining performance never allow you to immerse yourself in the title character. You know what Dr. Martin Ploeck is doing, and perhaps you can intuit a reason, but he never seems tangible. That is perhaps the most significant flaw with the movie. Then, of course, there’s also the third act.

Window of opportunity...

Don’t get me wrong. There’s quite a lot to enjoy in The Good Doctor, but it’s countered by a number of very fundamental flaws. Writer John Enbom gives us something that should feel like a dark and compelling noir tale about a medical professional making any number of moral transgressions. As he dives deeper into the rabbit hole, manipulating a patient’s treatment for his own selfish ends, engaging in inappropriate relationships and even more, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the sheer logistics of what is transpiring on film. Will he get away with it? What is the personal and professional cost? How come nobody is noticing?

Perhaps it’s easiest to summarise The Good Doctor as a series of interesting events that happen. The movie’s central flaw is that we don’t really get an idea of where these decisions are coming from. Having watched the film, I have no idea whyDr. Martin Ploeck does what he does. The film seems to suggest that he’s lonely and isolated, and that he manipulates his patient’s medication as a means of ensuring he has constant access to her, I understand that. However, there’s no sense of the sort of emotional void that would necessitate such behaviour. The character is portrayed as dilligent and wary of putting even the smallest foot wrong for fear of damaging his career, so we never understand why he would do something as desperate and reckless as this.

Diss orderly conduct...

I’m not sure whether the blame lies with Orlando Bloom in the central role, or the script itself. Ploeck doesn’t seem like a cold sociopath, at least based on his reactions to morally questionable activity conducted by others. He is cold and detached, and more than a little ambitious, but I don’t think the movie wants us to believe that he has a psychological condition underlying his flaws. Instead, the movie flirts with the idea that he lives a shallow and empty life, and that he wants all the “respect” one gets from being a Doctor. In fact, when asked why he became a medical professional, “respect” seemed to be the highest priority. “And helping people,” he adds at the end, when he realises that was probably the correct answer.

The problem is that the movie never really explains how his reckless and harmful behaviour gets him respect. He stalks a teenage girl. While he crafts a medical mystery that he ends up at the centre of, that wasn’t the objective. A young bachelor has dozens of other ways of becoming successful and earning respect, and keeping a patient dependent on you isn’t one of them. It’s a shame, because there are lovely moments. Alone in a consultants shiny sports car, he takes a moment to start the engine, imagining what life would be like with that sort of success. The problem is that this doesn’t explain the actions that start his downward spiral.

Time for reflection...

There’s a ridiculous amount of suspension of disbelief involved in the film. You need to accept that Orlando Bloom’s character works at the most criminally negligent hospital in the world. There are two extremely serious ethical breaches that occur before we even get into the meaty stuff. But, then again, that’s the way that noirs work, with the small moral transgressions paving the way for larger ones. Still, it seems odd that the hospital is even capable of appearing to function, based on what we see of it.

And that’s before we get to the final third of the film, where the movie seems to implode on itself, introducing a police officer investigating these mysterious circumstances at the last possible minute to generate fairly conventional and expected suspense… only for no real pay-off or follow through. Of course, this being a noir film, that’s probably entirely the point – there are no easy endings, and not everything is wrapped up – but it seems clunky to introduce the character and then fail to do anything with him. As impressive as J.K. Simmons is, it seems like a waste to have him show up and hang around for two scenes without doing anything of interest.

Quite the bedside manner...

I seem like I’m being a bit harsh on the film. I don’t mean to be. There’s quite a lot to like as well, even if they never completely offset these fundamental flaws. There are some wonderful darkly comic scenes where the eponymous doctor is invited to a family dinner – with his patient’s family clearly attempting to set him up with her sister. It’s so gleefully awkward, if only because it’s very clear that they very much want to have “a doctor” in the family, knowing nothing about him or what he does. Remarking that he doesn’t make any money, the sister is quick to observe that the real money is in private practice – a moment where it becomes clear just how much thought has gone into this family meal.

Similarly, while Bloom struggles with the central character, the supporting cast is remarkably solid. J.K. Simmons and Taraji P. Henson are solid in relatively small roles, but it’s Michael Peña who steals the show as the hospital’s corrupt orderly. Peña is quickly becoming the exceptional actor in movies that don’t generally measure up to his own level of talent. The film seems to come to life every time that his character appears on screen, and Peña relishes the opportunity to play a relatively larger-than-life character in a more buttoned-down setting.

Room to operate...

The Good Doctor isn’t a bad film, but it is a very flawed one. There are some powerful moments, some astute observations, and the foundations of a solid neo-noir to be found in the story of a young doctor’s corruption. On the other hand, however, the movie feels more than a little empty, as Bloom and the script fail to find any humanity in the character at the centre of this quirky little project.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2

4 Responses

  1. I wanna confirm.. is it just my dvd,, or did the movie really end up hanging..???

  2. I was scratching my head and looking it up a film explanation app simultaneously–I wasn’t sure how Ifelt but know I felt something. This in itself tells me there was in fact something to be gained from what could have been just uncomfortable, period. Did reading her journal cause him to smile briefly in the irony of ‘nothing to see here’ but then evaporate into sadness as the mess of it all resurfaces? The acting is only as good as what it delivers, but in this case way better performances all around than what they had to work with. I had a better idea about who this doctor had become than of who he used to be and why. At the end? He did the arrogance well at the end.

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