Kelsey Grammer and Julia Stiles do not make a natural romantic couple, and their awkward pairing is the largest misstep made by “The God Committee,” writer-director Austin Stark’s adaptation of Mark St. Germain’s play about a group of doctors tasked with deciding which of three patients should receive a heart transplant. Often resembling a schematic variation on “Twelve Angry Men” by way of “Grey’s Anatomy,” this earnest drama is a largely understated affair whose creakier elements are offset by a nuanced look at its various entangled issues. That won’t be enough to garner it much box-office traction, but it does make it a solid option for adult VOD viewers.
In November 2014, a New York City hospital’s transplant committee is confronted with a crisis: With the intended recipient of a fresh heart perishing on the operating table, a new beneficiary must be selected in one hour, lest the in-demand organ expire. That sets the ticking-time-bomb tone for the ensuing action, which centers on esteemed Dr. Andre Boxer (Grammer), a gruff pragmatist who believes that “the heart is just a muscle” and that such decisions must therefore be made without emotion, and his on-the-rocks girlfriend Dr. Jordan Taylor (Stiles), who’s new to the committee and takes a more wholistic view of this process.
Joining them in the committee is no-nonsense head honcho Dr. Valerie Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo), realistic Dr. Maryanne Wilkes (Patricia R. Floyd), conflicted Dr. Allen Lau (Peter Kim), and Father Dunbar (Colman Domingo), a disgraced former lawyer-turned-man of the cloth who’s been appointed to this position by the hospital’s governing board. Their task is to choose from a trio of candidates: an overweight, bipolar father-of-three; a smart single woman with no family and mixed feelings about a transplant; and Trip Granger (Maurizio Di Meo), the hard-partying son of wealthy financier Emmett Granger (Dan Hedaya), who complicates matters both by offering to donate $25 million to the hospital so his son gets the organ, and by directly pressuring Dr. Boxer, whose forthcoming private research endeavor he’s committed to bankrolling.
The emotional, financial, religious, and ethical factors that go into this medical question all quickly become a part of the screenplays’s thorny debates, which largely play out around a boardroom table. To mitigate the static nature of this inherently stagy setup, director Stark also cross-cuts to an ailing Dr. Boxer’s December 2021 attempt to entice investors to back his revolutionary project to use animals to create a limitless supply of transplantable human organs. The catch is that Dr. Boxer is dying and in desperate need of his own heart transplant, and Granger is willing to purchase him one on the black market from Istanbul — thus forcing Boxer, as he does in 2014, to grapple with the justness of letting money dictate who lives and who dies.
While “The God Committee” routinely resides on the precipice of preachiness, Stark’s script (via St. Germain’s source material) avoids one-note sermonizing and characterizations at most turns, instead maturely investigating the messy intersection of medicine, morality and commerce. There are no easy answers to the conundrums raised, and while there’s a somewhat predictable quality to the way the film upends expectations about particular individuals’ stances on these questions — for example, Father Dunbar isn’t simply a righteous pro-lifer — it never feels as if one is being unduly lectured.
As a surgeon whose rigid rationality exists side-by-side with decent core values, Grammer proves a commanding presence, even if his dynamic with Stiles — whose Taylor, in a clunky subplot, is also raising their child alone — never quite rings true. Matt Sakatani’s cool, clean visuals and Alan Canant’s sharp editing provide a sturdy formal framework for these tense proceedings, which are further aided by a Newton Brothers score that manages to remain on just the right side of melodramatic.