Critical Care

on October 31, 1997 by Bridget Byrne
   The essential callowness that audiences have come to associate with James Spader characters doesn't provide a strong central heartbeat to support "Critical Care," Sidney Lumet's scathing assault on modern medicine, but nevertheless the film gradually finds its own strong lifeline, establishing a tone and momentum that prove successful. Spader plays Dr. Ernst, an ambitious young medic who, because of a lack of care and an absence of caring, and due to his urge to dally with a teasing blonde ("Phenomenon's" Kyra Sedgwick), finds himself swept into a nightmare: the ethical void of contemporary critical-care medicine.
   As Dr. Ernst is on his way to learning his morality lesson, the script cuts cruelly and sharply into the cold heart of reality and finds bleak and crazy humor in exposing the horrifying hypocrisies that bind society's notions of life and death. This is not a movie in which anything is meant to feel easy, especially not the laughs. Though there are plenty of them, they sting and harden the film's message, never soften it. The cry for humanity and for a belief in the worth of human vulnerability is beneath the surface of every scene and can be glimpsed in unexpected corners of most of the characters, saving them from caricature.
   Helen Mirren ("Some Mother's Son") as the practical but true nurse as always gives a sterling performance, and Albert Brooks ("Mother") is surprisingly subtle as a mercenary old sot who is the chief of the hospital where death is kept at bay with high-tech heartlessness. Wallace Shawn and Anne Bancroft pop up in small fantasy roles to help with one or another of the big questions the movie asks<197>questions posed by Lumet wryly and with a confidently righteous anger, tempered by just the faintest whiff of hope.    Starring James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick, Helen Mirren and Albert Brooks. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Written by Steven S. Schwartz. Produced by Steven S. Schwartz and Sidney Lumet. A Live release. Satire. Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality. Running time: 109 min.
Tags: James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick, Helen Mirren, Albert Brooks, Sidney Lumet, Steven S. Schwartz, Live, Satire

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