Stella strolls slowly around the circle, touching a foot here, reading a dial there, tugging at her own ear, cocking her head, until we know surely that this movie intends to skewer the medical profession just as "Network" riddled television.

CRITICAL CARE

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


On the slim chance that you haven't learned that hospitals are dangerous to your health, "Critical Care" will make you a believer. This clever satire sends heat-seeking missiles at doctors, hospitals, and the health insurance industry without an ounce of deference to the medical gods of the past.

Director Sidney Lumet engages the audience immediately by following Stella (Helen Mirren) as she makes the rounds of the comatose patients under her watch. These nearly dead people, who are hooked up to artificial life, lie as still as stones. In this caricature of the politics of terminal illness, it is their awkward, naked feet that rivet attention. Where are the blankets!

Stella strolls slowly around the circle, touching a foot here, reading a dial there, tugging at her own ear, cocking her head, until we know surely that this movie intends to skewer the medical profession just as "Network" riddled television. Stella's weary acceptance of the ethical mess that hangs in the dead silence of unasked questions announces the movie's punch: Why are we keeping these people alive? At a cost of $110,000 per week to the patient, how long will the hospital keep the well-insured alive to guarantee that income? Will the uninsured be denied beds?

The metaphor for all these questions lies in Bed #5, where the ghouls and greedy gather to pursue their own agendas. Of the patient's two daughters, one is determined that her father live as long as a machine can breathe life into him; the other, Felicia, is a blonde Barbie doll who wants to pull the plug on his suffering. Then there's the matter of Mr. Potter's $10 million.

Slumped in exhaustion at the nurses' station, rumpled resident Dr. Werner Ernst (James Spader) shoots the breeze with Stella until his lascivious eye is caught by the Barbie doll as she arrives to check on dad in Bed #5. Poor Werner, who becomes the film's moral question mark, steps into a bramble patch of greed, callous disregard, and ego.

The movie uses drunken Dr. Butz (Albert Brooks) to attack the greed of the insurance industry. Then it hits genetic manipulation with Dr. Hofstader (Phillip Bosco), who is consumed by bioengineering body parts in his lab of miracles. Finally, the movie takes aim at hypocrisy through a despotic lawyer (Edward Hermann) whose arrogance springs from the new paradigm: medicine has been swallowed up by law.

These medicine men know today's truth: "There is no longer any condition that is truly terminal, just patients we choose not to maintain." Sidney Lumet uses black humor to scream that the politics of these choices have caused the collapse of the American healthcare system. In a culture where beds have become more valuable than people, the terminally ill are attended by families, doctors, lawyers, and insurance men whose main concern is money. Not a tear is left over, it seems, for those poor patients with all those cold feet.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : Live Entertainment
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h47m


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