Black comedy lurks just below the suspenseful surface, with more than a hint of Lolita-ish absurdity.
Orlando Bloom stars as an English doctor newly arrived in California for his first year of residency in Lance Daly’s highly un-Hippocratic psychological thriller “The Good Doctor.” Black comedy lurks just below the suspenseful surface, with more than a hint of “Lolita”-esque absurdity as the doc falls under the kittenish spell of a nubile blonde high-school patient. Daly deftly creates a disturbing, Chabrol-like tension that plays on immediate identification with the handsome medico’s lonely, shy vulnerability and slow-building horror at the depths to which his self-delusion can sink. Strong cast and nuanced direction prescribe healthy distribution.
Irish helmer Daly, whose “Kisses” set a couple of innocent kids wandering alone through the murky, uncertain byways of Dublin, here looses a morally compromised doctor amid the gleaming sterility of Southern California. When asked why he became a doctor, Martin Blake (Bloom) answers “respect,” but the kind he seeks has less to do with profession than class. He aspires to a position atop the social hierarchy, with Latino orderlies and nurses below, paying him deference despite his inexperience.
Director Daly cleverly camouflages the true nature of the protagonist. Bloom’s good looks, natural diffidence and affectless demeanor make it difficult at first to recognize him as a snobbish villain, particularly since he is intimately filmed in close-up or as a lone figure staring out to sea.
Barely attempting to understand a Hispanic patient’s complaint, Blake concentrates his attentions upon curing the kidney infection of statuesque teenage Diane (a pitch-perfect Riley Keough) — she of guileless blue eyes, pouty flirtatious mouth and pink leather diary — and resorts to unethical behavior to keep her in his kingdom, tampering with her medication to draw out her recovery. When an insolent orderly (Michael Pena) happens upon evidence of his transgression, Blake ventures more deeply into medical malfeasance.
Sardonically, but hardly surprisingly in John Enbom’s facilely ironic script, the further Blake slides down the slippery slope of malpractice, the more warmly he finds himself accepted into a health care fraternity that previously viewed him askance. His cover-ups read as dedication, his rationalizations as profundity, while he fortuitously profits from others’ mistakes. His casually idealistic mentor (Rob Morrow); cynical roommate (Troy Garity); forceful nurse Theresa (Taraji P. Henson), the former bane of his existence; even a probing police inspector (J.K. Simmons) prove blind to his peculiarly British brand of dreamy ruthlessness.
But despite wry digs at the health care profession and the shiny authenticity of its hospital locale, “Good Doctor” less resembles a contempo medical expose than it does ’70s British social-climbing black comedies like Clive Donner’s “Nothing but the Best.”
Pic’s lushly romantic score and sea-swept panoramas contrast nicely with its mounting moral disconnect.