Tuesday, September 26, 2006
SOMETHING THE LORD MADE
SOMETHING THE LORD MADE is probably the best made-for-television movie I had never heard of until the title was mentioned over dinner on a recent cruise. Thanks to the unwavering recommendation by new-found friends from Hawaii, upon my return home I immediately began to search for a DVD or videotape of this production which aired on HBO in 2004. Thankfully, I was able to locate a copy at a nearby Blockbuster store.
Let's begin by simply mentioning some of the awards bestowed upon this excellent project that is based on a true and compelling story:
IMAGE AWARDS -- Outstanding Television Movie
IMAGE AWARDS -- Nominated for Outstanding Actor
WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA -- Best Original Long-Form Screenplay
DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA -- DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies for Television
EMMY AWARD -- Outstanding Cinematography for a Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Best Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Best Editing for a Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Six (6) additional Emmy Nominations
GOLDEN GLOBES -- Two (2) Nominations
ARTIOS AWARD -- Best Casting for a Television Movie-of-the-Week
PEABODY AWARD -- Best Television Movie
And all are deserved...
How in the world could I have not known about SOMETHING THE LORD MADE? Just as perplexing, how could I have not known about the real-life events the movie is based upon? In my defense, I'll gladly bet that 90% or more of those who read this review will not have known about this remarkable true-life story either.
Special mention must go to Joseph Sargent, perhaps the most consistent director to work in television. Since 1954, his vast directing credits include eighty-one separate television shows, television movies and feature films. Among these credits is THE INCIDENT, written by good friends Michael and James Norell, which is arguably the best made-for-television movie ever. One thing you can bank on is that if Joseph Sargent is directing, the project is going to be a good one. And the better news is that he's still going strong. (He directed SOMETHING THE LORD MADE when he was 79).
The cast is uniformly excellent. Alan Rickman plays Dr. Alfred Blalock, an ambitious, eccentric white surgeon who is willing to go against the long-standing medical orthodoxy that says flat out: "You can't operate on the heart -- that's basic."
Blalock's unlikely partner is Vivian Thomas, a black-carpenter-turned-lab-assistant who proves indispensable in this duo achieving a medical breakthrough. Thomas is portrayed by Mos Def, regarded as one of hip-hop's most introspective and insightful artists. The name, by the way, stands for "Most Definitely," and Mos Def's sensitive performance is most definitely one reason I believe you will be seeing a lot more of him in the years to come.
Focusing on the plight of "blue babies" -- infants with a congenital heart defect that turns their skin blue as they slowly suffocate -- the interracial team of Blalock and Thomas successfully perform the first-ever heart surgery, altering forever the mortality rate of blue babies and, by extension, forever changing medical science as well.
Other cast members are equally as solid. Mary Stuart Masterson as Dr. Helen Taussig is superb as always. The same can be said for Kyra Sedgewick and Charles S. Dutton as, respectively, Blalock's wife and Thomas' father. In fact, the entire cast and crew do an outstanding job.
Last, but certainly not least, I must single out screenwriters Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell who manage to expeditiously examine the evolving relationship which existed between these two men over a period of nearly forty years. And here's the single biggest surprise of all -- Silverman and Caswell elect to not have the ground-breaking operation serve as the climax of the story. Instead, they leave an entire act to establish a heartfelt, satisfactory denouement regarding the specific racial and educational issues which they chose to explore with honesty and compassion. This is a bold structural departure from what just about every other writer would do, and it helps propel SOMETHING THE LORD MADE to a truly memorable and inspiring viewing experience.