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THE DOCTOR

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the best movies of 1991 was this little gem that sneaked into theaters at the end of summer and did pretty well at the box office and with critics, but which is now, sadly, largely forgotten. So here’s your chance to catch up as Kino Lorber reissues the film in a new Blu-ray ‘Special Edition.’ Below is my review, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 16, 1991.

"The Doctor" is Jack MacKee (William Hurt), a cold-fish professional who knows his business — surgery, primarily cardiovascular — but has little, if any, sympathy or feeling for his patients.

Likewise, at home he has a superficial relationship with his devoted wife Anne (Christine Lahti) and young son Nicky (Charlie Korsmo). Essentially, his work is his life; everything else is trimming.

MacKee is charismatic and intelligent, with a dry, acerbic wit that easily evokes laughter from those around him. At the same time, however, he jokes as a way of keeping people at a distance. He has little interest in his son's activities, is too self-absorbed to support his wife in her work and blithely avoids his patient's concerns. For example, when a mastectomy patient seeks advice because her husband is unable to fully accept her operation, he dismisses her worries with a sharp quip.

     

Elizabeth Perkins, William Hurt, 'The Doctor'

It isn't long, however, before Hurt finds himself diagnosed with throat cancer, which leads to his being subjected to all the indignities every patient suffers. Suddenly he's sitting too long in waiting rooms, his own doctor tells him bluntly what's wrong and doesn't want to hear his questions, and he finds, to his consternation, that his being a doctor himself doesn't give him any special privileges. On the home front, his son is too busy to express concern and he somehow can't connect with his wife, though she tries to get closer to him.

Eventually, he meets and develops a platonic relationship with a young woman (Elizabeth Perkins) who has a brain tumor, and she helps him understand better what he's going through and how to deal with it.

Even so, MacKee finds that his newfound sensitivity isn't going to be easily assimilated into his lifestyle.

"The Doctor" could have been little more than one more movie about a professional who, through a crisis, learns to stop and smell the roses, but the sensitive direction of Randa Haines ("Children of a Lesser God"), the intelligent script by Robert Caswell ("A Cry in the Dark") and a brilliant, subtle performance by William Hurt, all probe his character so deeply that you will feel you've really come to know this guy.

     

Charlie Korsmo, left, Christine Lahti, William Hurt, 'The Doctor'

MacKee's process is a slow, painful one, leavened with plenty of humor, both of the gallows variety and simply the audience appreciation of seeing a cocky prominent physician get his comeuppance.

There are other wonderful performances here as well, especially Elizabeth Perkins, who takes a role that could have been merely a sentimental cliché and gives it dignity and wit; Christine Lahti, as the long-suffering wife who is unable to get past her husband's facade; Mandy Patinkin, as Hurt's professional partner, whose less-than-ethical procedures come back to haunt him; and Adam Arkin, as a humorless but compassionate surgeon for whom Hurt gains new respect.

"The Doctor" is a highly entertaining film, not at all as dour as this review may lead you to believe, and if you've ever been to a doctor or had a stay in a hospital, you'll identify with much of what is depicted here.

It is rated PG-13 for a few profanities, along with some vulgar jokes and hospital gore.