Written and Directed by Michael Crichton
Based on the novel by Robin Cook
Starring Geneviève Bujold, Michael Douglas, Richard Widmark, Rip Torn, Ed Harris, Tom Selleck, Elizabeth Ashley
Coma is a professionally made thriller with a top notch cast. It has a big budget, serious feel. It touches on women’s lib in a way that is forced at first, then it rolls right into the mystery.
Bujold is Dr. Susan Wheeler, a resident surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital. After her friend goes in for a routine operation and ends up brain dead, the dies, Wheeler discovers something more insidious going on beneath the surface of the hospital and the medical institution itself.
Her boyfriend, Dr. Mark Bellows (Douglas) is in line for a lead role. He wants to understand what Wheeler is going through, but he feels the pressure to help keep his girlfriend in line.
More than this, I will not describe. The plot is stretched thin to make sure all mysteries are solved within the 113 minute running time.
Crichton, who worked with Cook when he was in medical school, has a taught understanding of the medical field. He knows just how things run, and it helps push the authentic feel. He is not one for subtle hints. If he wants you to know how things are shaking, he just lets his heroine figure it out plainly and in front of our eyes. Then, for good measure, she will explain it to Bellows.
Still, the chemistry between the two works enough to pass as a couple familiar, but not completely trusting of one another. This gives the last act some gravity as Crichton has the walls close in around her heroine.
The film is notable for being the feature debut of Ed Harris, who plays a young doctor helping Wheeler understand what she is looking to diagnose. Tom Selleck appears as another routine surgery patient ending up a corpse.
Crichton thought of this like a Western set in a hospital. There are good doctors fighting against the crooked establishment doctors. You can guess which ones wear the black hats.
Coma was a decent sized hit when it was released, and it deserved its audience. It probably could have used an additional character or two, perhaps another half hour to let the plot develop naturally. Crichton understands well enough how to keep the viewer involved, even if the story is compacted to get the viewer in and out in standard time.
(***1/2 out of *****)