Plot: What’s it about?
Based on the true story of two pioneers of heart surgery, “Something The Lord Made” is a phenomenal film. It brings to life the story of two men battling a disease, society and each other in literal and figurative terms. It is both tasteful and engaging, and its reputation should only get stronger over time. This is the story of Dr. Alfred Blalock played beautifully and tenderly by Alan Rickman), a brilliant surgeon who enlists the unlikely help of a maintenance worker named Vivien Thomas (Mos Def in an absolutely stunning pitch-perfect performance) as a medical assistant. The trouble is, Vivien Thomas is black. The 1940’s class system of segregation and blatant disrespect keep Thomas questioning his real role in the world of medicine as the film goes on, and this is handled exquisitely well. Far too many times, stories about discrimination come off as manipulative and forced attempts at driving the point home that such practices are archaic. Here, this aspect is a part of the main story, not the distractingly driving force behind it. While that message is quite certainly present, it is done in a way that never once insulted my intelligence or made me feel as though the film were
Indeed, it’s in the subtle and small off-screen moments that this film truly excels, and it makes you wish there were more like it being made today. The chemistry between the two leads, upon which the majority of the films rests, is tangible and always rings true. Performances, even by actors playing the most inconsequential of roles, are unanimously both superb and genuine. True, this is a rather formulaic story, and I knew fairly early on where things were headed, but it was a ride I would take again in a heartbeat (no pun intended). For all of its predictability, there’s a real feeling of tension in certain scenes (as when the first human subject is used in surgery) and surprise in others (a subplot about sending Vivien to college never went where I was expecting). But in the end, this movie is less about the destination than it is about the journey. I consider this to be the mark of any great film, and the journey taken here is thankfully one that’s quite remarkable. This may not be a big budget film, but it’s got more heart (sorry) than a dozen blockbusters put together. There are times that this film plays dangerously close to a Lifetime movie of the week, but it never quite goes off the edge of sentiment – at least, not until the filmmakers know they can get away with it.
“Something The Lord Made” was an incredibly rewarding experience to watch. I haven’t been this touched by a story or group of characters since the first time I saw “The Shawshank Redemption”. I actually felt that the film was, if anything, too short. This is a testimony to its craft and its reliance on characters that matter and emotions that never take one wrong step along the way. I was so disarmed by this picture that I’m giving it my highest recommendation, especially to those of you expecting (as I was) a trifle of a television production. This is a much better film than the overwhelming majority of higher-profile releases that come out in theaters these days, and it will resonate long after you’ve seen it. This is a rare deeply emotional film that wisely keeps its emotional impact contained for the vast majority of the picture, posturing for just the right moment to release it on the unsuspecting. I had no idea how much I had invested in these people until the last few scenes played out, and I found myself desperately wanting more when the credits began. But then, the best movies will always provoke both a sense of loss when they’re over and a feeling of great happiness that you’ve discovered them at all. I invite you to give this film a chance and feel both as profoundly I did.
Video: How does it look?
This DVD is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserving the original ratio of the film. This is an exceptional transfer inasmuch as it doesn’t draw attention to any particular flaws. And with a film shot in such a way as to accentuate any such deficiencies, this is particularly impressive. The color scheme is very drab and nondescript, the lighting subdued, and the scenery simply doesn’t lend itself to drawing attention to a good DVD transfer. That being said, I noticed nothing in the way of edge enhancement, compression errors,
inaccurate color timing, pumped-up contrast, or weak black levels. Everything is spot on technically, and although there is nothing specifically to detract from this effort, I find it difficult to give it my highest rating due to the overall “blah factor” of the production. If I could find one thing to fault here, it’s the feeling of softness that pervades, although this could very well have been a stylistic decision as this is a period film. No complaints, though. Excellent work here. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Audio: How does it sound?
Though not a “sound” movie by any means, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track does a fine (if not particularly notable) job of complementing things on the video side. There’s not a lot of aggressive surround use here (as is to be expected), but such gimmicks in a film like this would only serve to detract from the experience. Encompassing effects are there, however, though subtle. I never felt drawn out of the picture by harsh high ends or overly robust lows. A middle-of-the-road effort that is appropriate to what’s onscreen. And, though this isn’t the best track I’ve ever heard, isn’t that the real job of good audio at the end of the day? Very well done yet again. Dolby Digital English 2.0, French 2.0, and Spanish 2.0 audio tracks are also available for those so inclined.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The audio commentary featuring director Joseph Sargent, writer Peter Silverman, and executive producers Robert W. Cort and Eric Hetzel is just wonderful. A few lapses into silence aside, this is a consistently engaging and insightful track for the entirety of its duration. Technical and anecdotal facts are offered in more or less equal portions (my favorite recipe for successful commentary tracks). On the other hand, the included featurette is extremely disappointing, playing much more like commercial filler on HBO to promote their new original movie
than anything worth seeing after you’ve seen the film and the commentary. If you don’t like EPK-style feaurettes that run less than three minutes (!), then skip this extra. Also included is a fairly brief “Making History Slide Show” feature that essentially outlines the story of the film in a few minutes with a few nice photographs of the real Blalock and Thomas and some extremely repetitive music (I’d recommend keeping it on, but turn it down a bit or it gets grating very quickly).