The irony of The Good Doctor is that its title character is anything but good. This would be Martin Blake (Orlando Bloom), a British medical student who has just transferred to a Los Angeles hospital to begin his residency. His initial scenes depict him as withdrawn from his colleagues and superiors, who aren’t hostile but certainly don’t go out of their way to make him feel welcome. There’s even a slight incident involving a Hispanic patient who doesn’t speak English and may or may not be allergic to penicillin. But for the most part, Blake is merely suffering from a bruised ego, believing he isn’t getting the respect he deserves. We don’t see the full extent of his rotten personality until he’s introduced to a teenage girl named Diane Nixon (Riley Keough), who’s suffering from a kidney infection.
He quickly picks up on the fact that she’s attracted to him and longs for his medical care. He’s more than happy to oblige. It’s not so much that he’s attracted to her physically, even though she’s indisputably beautiful; like a rapist, what he’s really attracted to is the feeling of exerting power over someone vulnerable. Throughout the film, Diane is unaware of the ways in which Blake is manipulating her. This has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence on her part. She’s merely young and naïve, having only her current adolescent relationship with a teenage boy as a frame of reference. She now believes her boyfriend is a jerk, and perhaps he is, although that doesn’t much matter. What does matter is that this is something else Blake picks up on. He now has one less person standing between him and his patient. If he ever does try to interfere, Blake is well versed in all the medical rhetoric regarding visitors.
Diane responds well to her antibiotic treatment, and in due time, she’s well enough to be released. Surely Blake knew in the back of his mind that such a day would eventually come. But because his self esteem is dependent on being in control of others, he cannot accept her departure on an emotional level. Luck intervenes, allowing Blake to enter the Nixon residence twice. The first time is for a family dinner, Blake having been invited by Diane’s father (Wade Williams) out of appreciation. Although Diane isn’t present during his visit, the wheels in Blake’s head start to turn. The second time is when he picks up a thank-you basket made by Diane’s mother (Molly Price). This is when Blake takes action; he excuses himself to the bathroom, retrieves Diane’s prescription of antibiotics from the medicine cabinet, and replaces the contents of the capsules with sugar from a packet.
Inevitably, Diane ends up back in the hospital. This time around, Blake takes one extra step to ensure she will stay under his care for as long as possible, namely the discrete replacement of the contents of her antibiotic IV bag with pure saline. Obviously, this can only be done during the night shift; Diane is more likely to be asleep, and the floor is minimally staffed. It’s at this point we’re made more aware of an orderly named Jimmy (Michael Peña), who doesn’t take his job seriously and yet is oddly observant of Blake’s actions and behaviors. He will be the subject of the film’s final act, although I cannot reveal why. You’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t bother keeping anything secret, as this review reads as if I’ve given away the entire film. You’re wrong. Let it suffice to say that there’s more to the plot that what I’ve described in excruciating detail.
And what of the plot? Admittedly, it pushes the limits of plausibility, relying on the same conveniences, technicalities, and turns of events one would find in a detective story. The saving grace is that plot is not the film’s real focus; this is primarily a character study, and a damn chilling one at that. Blake is a reprehensible human being, willing to violate every ethical standard of medicine just to inflate his ego, which is pathetically fragile. Nothing is known about his background, but then again, nothing needs to be known. That’s because his actions in this one story speak for themselves. Although he’s responsible for several unnerving moments, the single most frightening scene is the last one, for it asserts that some people are undeservedly lucky in life.
Blake is an intriguing character and is closely examined. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of several side characters that are infrequently featured, inadequately developed, or both. These would include: Nurse Theresa (Taraji P. Henson), who spends most of the film asking about illegible handwriting on medical reports; Dr. Waylans (Rob Morrow), who’s always asking Blake about how he’s feeling, physically and emotionally; and a police detective (J.K. Simmons), who only appears during the final act and seems oddly detached. If you look at The Good Doctor from a technical standpoint, it is noticeably flawed. The thing is, I believe this film works on a purely emotional level. We don’t like Blake, and yet we watch with helpless fascination as he cuts away any remaining threads of morality. I’ll bet he had his fingers crossed when he took the Hippocratic Oath.
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