The situation is simple and dramatic; a human heart is ready for transplant, but only within a time-specific restriction. Those who run the hospital find three potential candidates, but which of them to choose? That question makes up much of the dramatic meat of The God Committee, a film adapted by writer/director Austin Stark from a stage play by Mark St Germain. Set back in 2014 rather than now, Stark’s film dramatises questions that concern how fair our implementation of hospital policy is. Most people can agree that organ transplants are a vital, game-changing part of our healthcare, and films like this should only encourage the life-saving practice. The target of Stark’s film, however, is about exposing human flaws rather than proceedural ones, and the intention is to cut deep.
Kelsey Grammer plays a different kind of doctor here, Dr Andre Boxer is a brilliant surgeon, and has aspirations to resolve issues about organ donation by creating material from animal research; for once, the film depicts these issues in a matter of fact way. Boxer takes his place on the God committee, but already has feat of clay. Boxer has a tobacco addiction, and a fractured sexual relationship with another committee member Dr Jordan Taylor (Julia Styles). Boxer also knows that moving one of the candidates up the list might lead directly to a huge donation towards the ailing financial health of the antiquated hospital he practices in, and recognises the difficult position that information puts them all in. Committee head Dr Vivian Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo) has to find a balance to make the right decision, but tempers inevitably flare as time runs out…
The fabled Twelve Angry Men is a useful jumping-off point here; I’m no doctor, but could easily and quickly rank the patients in terms of eligibility, but that’s not how it should or does work. Judgements and assumptions are made, but it’s to The God Committee’s credit that the viewer’s assumptions change as further information is revealed, showing us why that rush towards judgement is a flawed one. David Mamet wrote that he didn’t want to audience of his plays ‘to emerge whistling the moral’, and Stark keeps the issues live and complex in the viewer’s head. A series of flash-forwards, not included in the play, bring the story bang up to date with our fresh Covid-era concerns concern about gene-editing, while teasing out the dramatic consequences of the core drama.
Perhaps looking at the world so seriously now is seen as old fashioned; either way, The God Committee provokes and stimulates, with Grammer compelling as an egocentric but spiritually bereft man, and Stiles and Garafolo convincing as two experienced women who understand the depth of the concerns involved for different reasons. Colman Domingo, Peter Kim and the eternally youthful Dan Hedaya all contribute uniformly strong support, and if you can dig the intensity of the subject matter (and can handle a couple of graphic shots of surgery), The God Committee is intelligent, thoughtful entertainment of a challenging kind that’s increasingly scarce in 2021.
The God Committee is out now (July 2021) in the US, UK and streaming platforms worldwide.