Something the Lord Made (2004)
In the 1940s, Dr. Alfred Blalock and a team of doctors at Johns Hopkins were making great advances and innovations in the field of cardiac surgery. However, with the great multitude of privileged doctors surrounding him, perhaps Blalock's most valuable asset was the work of his lab assistant, Vivien Thomas, a black man who was never given the chance to be a doctor, but was given, by Blalock, the opportunity to help develop revolutionary techniques that would save countless lives.
Something the Lord Made, a film made for HBO, tells this story from Vivien's perspective, which is radically different from the story that was told at the time by the international media. Mos Def plays Vivien, and does a wonderful job in making Vivien a real person, instead of an idealistic caricature, who doesn't make much money, but isn't satisfied making more money elsewhere, because he really enjoys the field of medicine. Alan Rickman plays Dr. Blalock and adds an atrocious southern accent to an otherwise stable performance.
Vivien Thomas, a carpenter by trade, has been saving for medical school for several years, when he comes across the opportunity to be a janitor in the lab of Dr. Alfred Blalock, a young research doctor who experiments on dogs in order to find a way to perform surgery to repair defective hearts, an operation that has been deemed impossible by most experts. Vivien shows some interest and more than a little knowledge of medicine, and soon Blalock has given him a white coat and they work side by side in the lab, challenging one another along the way. When Blalock gets a new job as head of surgery at Johns Hopkins, he insists that Vivien come along with him.
The doctors at Hopkins are very slow to accept Vivien, a black man, into their world, but he slowly gains their respect through his extensive knowledge and calm demeanor. There are still skeptics, however, and Vivien wonders whether Blalock is treating him as an equal or just using him to further his own career and accomplishments. After they perform the first surgery together, Vivien isn't even allowed to be in the pictures taken for the magazines.
This is a good made-for-TV movie, but not up to the standards of a theatrical release. The dialogue is all medically accurate, I am told, but when they are not talking medicine, the characters aren't given much interesting to say. As I stated before, the performances are solid, with Mos Def shining most brightly, but Alan Rickman really needs to stick to British characters, because more often than not, his accent was just distracting. But overall, this was an interesting film, and I was able to take away from it some medical information and history, so I'll give it one thumb up.
March 14, 2005