Title: The Good Doctor
Director: Lance Daly
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Riley Keough, Rob Morrow, Michael Peña, Troy Garity, Taraji P. Henson, J.K. Simmons, Sorel Carradine
A solidly constructed little character study of dark romantic bloom commingled with slipping-knot mental instability, “The Good Doctor” finds star-producer Orlando Bloom once again attempting to strike out and proactively define a screen personality separate and apart from the blockbuster pin-up status conferred upon him by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lord of the Rings” movies. The scale and stakes are much smaller than in something like “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (and the behavioral urges somewhat different as well), but director Lance Daly capably pull strings in a manner that elicits tension and elucidates the impulses of obsession.
Bloom stars as Dr. Martin Blake, an ambitious but insecure young doctor in the early days of his residency. Already nervous about making a good impression on his supervisor and would-be mentor, Dr. Waylans (an excellent Rob Morrow), and concerned with the impact of a minor slip-up on his chances at an end-of-year fellowship, Martin lives each day with an electrical storm of anxiety and quiet contempt for others raging in his head. He looks down his nose at Jimmy (Michael Peña), an admittedly less-than-professional orderly, and takes disproportionate offense at the slights of Theresa (Taraji P. Henson), a nurse whom he feels doesn’t show him the proper deference and respect.
When a teenage patient, Diane (Riley Keough), is admitted with a relatively minor kidney infection, Martin gains self-esteem from aiding in her recovery, and strikes up a friendship with her, all while spurning the romantic advances of her older sister, Valerie (Sorel Carradine). Martin’s interest soon becomes warped, however, as when Diane’s condition improves he begins tampering with her treatment in order to bring her back into his life. When Jimmy later discovers evidence of this, it further compromises Martin’s professional future.
“The Good Doctor” doesn’t necessarily show an enormous amount of directorial growth over Daly’s previous effort, the sublime “Kisses,” but it doesn’t have to, effectively threading the needle as it does between intimate character study and psychological thriller. Working from a script by John Enbom, Daly delivers a spare portrait of howling neediness that unfolds in a world without a lot of extra flourishes in setting or scope. There’s a compact focus to the movie (even the specific city in which it unfolds is meaningless, apart from a coastal connection) that puts an audience right alongside Martin, and believably in his head, while still allowing for slight modulations in tone. It’s a different animal from something like Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave,” but similar in that it is both at home with and achieves intrigue, dark comedy and a slowly escalating tension and uncertainty about how things will play out.
The precision of Daly and cinematographer Yaron Orbach’s wide frames abet the actors, allowing for a rich and subtle interplay of action and reaction. Morrow is superb, Keough is radiant, and Peña is amusing as a smarmy, weaselly clock-puncher looking to capitalize on his bit of informational leverage. Bloom’s performance is very occasionally a bit self-conscious — he seems an actor always aware of the camera’s position — but also restrained. He succeeds in tapping into Martin’s vulnerability and self-delusion in equal measure — no small task.
The fairly late introduction of an investigating detective (J.K. Simmons), while meant to ratchet up the stakes, feels a bit like a rushed gambit to bring closure and finality to the narrative. Still, “The Good Doctor” doesn’t opt for a pat conclusion or render a moral judgment writ large. Its open-endedness is an enchanting conversation-starter — and bound to conjure up speculation about the out-of-office lives of your own care providers during your next doctor’s appointment.
Written by: Brent Simon