Saturday 9 July 2022

Movie Review: The God Committee (2021)

A medical ethics drama, The God Committee tackles organ transplant dilemmas but insists on a surly tone. 

Events jump between two timelines in 2014 and 2021. In 2014, the romantic relationship between the dour and near-retirement Dr. Andre Boxer (Kelsey Grammer) and the much younger Dr. Jordan Taylor (Julia Stiles) is coming to an end. They are both heart surgeons on the organ transplant committee of New York's St. Augustine Hospital. 

A fatal motor vehicle accident in Baltimore means a donor heart has become available, and the committee has to select from three candidate recipients: an overweight man with a previous suicide attempt, an elderly woman who is ambivalent about receiving a new heart; or a young entitled man with a history of drug addiction.  The young man is the son of business tycoon Emmett Granger (Dan Hedaya), who complicates the committee's work by dangling the potential of a $25 million gift to the hospital.

In 2021, Boxer has retired from the hospital and is leading an ambitious research program that could enable organ harvesting in animals for potential human use. Emmet is one of his main funders, but Boxer's health is deteriorating, jeopardizing the program. Meanwhile, Jordan is a senior doctor at the hospital, and a mother to a six-year-old boy.

An independent production, The God Committee adapts a play by Mark St. Germain, and seeks the intersection of medicine, morality, and money. Director Austin Stark also wrote the screenplay, and enjoys the presence of a talented cast to help overcome the lack of high-budget pizazz. In addition to Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, and Dan Hedaya, Janeane Garofalo (the hospital's chief administrator) and Colman Domingo (a priest with a past and an agenda) have tasty roles.

The source material appears intended as a tense debate-around-the-table in the vein of 12 Angry Men. Stark does well to free the movie from stage origins, the drama visiting multiple locations and never feeling constrained. The twin timeline structure adds narrative tension and a benefit-of-time consequence to the central guessing game of who gets the donor heart.

While the main characters are provocative, they are also weighed down and wrestling with predictable soon-to-be-exposed flaws. Dr. Boxer, Dr. Taylor, and investor Granger all carry a ton of emotional bricks into every scene, nary a smile nor witticism in evidence. The script is a couple of polishes away from a final product, the dialogue lacking zing and the stream of self-satisfied revelations barely making an impression.

The central theme digs into the conundrums of a committee grappling with the God-like power to decide which patient gets a better chance to live. With the best of intentions, personal judgements, subjective assessments, self-interest, and the influence of money contaminate the process. The medical professionals around this table are not above talking themselves into compromising decisions, the big picture and individual patient needs often obscuring each other. 

Without lecturing, The God Committee does point to the potential for a better science-enabled future, but other committees in other movies will need to uncork the ethical dilemmas of using animals to harvest organs for humans. 

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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