“Dr. Martin Burke” (Orlando Bloom) is a brand new resident in his first year of residency in The Good Doctor, a new film from director Lance Daly (Last Days in Dublin) and it’s going to be a challenge. Because not only does Dr. Burke lack confidence in his own abilities, the physician supervising him, “Dr. Waylans” (Rob Morrow), and the nurse he will encounter most often in performing his duties, “Nurse Theresa” (Taraji P. Henson), don’t think a lot of him either. Even his good friend, fellow resident “Dan” (Troy Garity), appears not to think all that highly of Dr. Burke.
But one of the very first patients he treats, “Diane Nixon” (Riley Keogh), has a very different opinion. She thinks the world of him and is convinced he will cure her kidney problems, which he does in short order. She is a definite confidence builder for Dr. Burke, and when he tries to keep her in the hospital just one more day, “to be sure she’s alright”, he is disappointed to learn Dr. Waylans has already sent her home.
But, because her family is very grateful for his work, and because her older sister “Valerie” (Sorrel Carradine) has the hots for the cute doctor, Diane’s father stops by the hospital and invites Dr. Burke to their home for dinner. That doesn’t go well, as Diane isn’t there, Valerie’s lust is written on her face, and her brother is being a pain in the ass. When Dr. Burke excuses himself to use the restroom, he pauses there for a moment, not wanting to return to the dining room. Looking in the medicine cabinet, he spies Diane’s medication and an idea pops into his head.
He finds a pretext to return to the Nixon home the next day and replaces the antibiotics in her capsules with sugar. This produces the results he desires, and she winds up right back in the hospital, in the same room. To ensure she doesn’t get better right away, he prescribes her stronger medications, but then while she sleeps, he replaces the IV meds with water.
For fans of medical shows like ER, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy, you’re probably thinking about the diagnosis of Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy and you’d be 100% correct. But in this case, the reasons for the condition are clear. Burke wants the confidence and adoration that Diane provides, even if it means keeping her ill.
Things don’t work out as Burke wants. Diane gets worse as her condition spirals out of control and there is nothing to be done to save her. There is no evidence of how Dr. Burke tampered with her tests or medications, so he should be home free, but there is a shady orderly named “Jimmy” (Michael Pena) and he found Diane’s diary hidden in her bed. Dr. Burke doesn’t know what’s in the diary and he knows that the worst thing he did for which he could be taken to task is having stolen a kiss while Diane slept. The evidence of everything else is destroyed. But Diane’s emotional involvement and what she wrote about that in the diary is an unknown and he can’t afford to risk letting that information fall into the wrong hands. So he submits to Jimmy’s blackmail to provide him with some good drugs for “partying”. It seemed at first like it would be a short term thing, but when it becomes obvious that Jimmy wants his supply of ‘stuff’ for the long-haul and Dr. Burke will never get that diary back, he has to find a way to end his dependence on Jimmy.
This probably looked great on the monitor when writer Jon Enbom conceived it, and it involves ideas that have strong potential. It just didn’t turn out that well when it got translated to the big screen. Orlando Bloom has great emotional range, or at least has demonstrated it in other roles, but the Dr. Burke we get seems extremely uni-dimensional. Perhaps that’s an intentional thing, as part of the portrayal of the character, but it doesn’t work well. Riley Keogh is attractive and does well with her part, but it’s a limited role because of how it’s structured. Taraji Henson and Rob Morrow are fine in their roles as medical professionals and kudos to the producers and location scouts who secured the use of Century City Hospital for filming. The hospital scenes look like they were filmed in a real hospital, because that’s what Century City Hospital was until it went out of business not that long ago.
The conclusion is interesting, probably some of the best moments of the film and the final resolution isn’t nearly as predictable as one might imagine. Will Dr. Burke find the confidence he needs to practice medicine? Will he end up owning up to what he’s done to try to gain that confidence? One of the themes we are shown consistently in the media’s portrayal of the teaching of medicine to doctors is that one isn’t really a doctor until they’ve killed a patient. But when that death is one of commission rather than omission, one is left to wonder if too high a price was paid.