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14 July 2005

Something the Lord Made

Alan Rickman & Mos Def
Directed by Joseph Sargent (Miss Evers' Boys)

From Hollywood Video: "HBO drama about heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas whose friendship and collaboration were jeopardized by social pressures."

I rented this film for three reasons: Alan Rickman, Mos Def, and the fact that it was produced by HBO films, thereby setting it apart from other made-for-TV/Cable dramas.

Alan Rickman, as it turns out, is a fabulous actor who cannot do a southern American accent to save his life. But I forgive him because he is Alan Rickman. His gravitas and wry humor are always there, enlivening and humanizing his performances. As Dr. Blalock, he was engaging and realistic without reverting to either sentimentality or caricature. Mos Def, who impressed me so much in The Woodsman, again brought a quiet intelligence, strength and compassion to this role, making him one of the most impressive young actors I have seen recently. Def infuses Thomas's struggle to find acceptance, feed his family, and fulfill his professional ambitions with a gentle, dedicated regard for the balance between what has to be and what can be.

The men portrayed here were pioneers in more than one sense. Their friendship and respect for each other - a white man and a black man - in a time when they could not share a toilet (let alone work so closely together) rivaled their accomplishments in the treatment of shock, blue baby syndrome and heart surgery. The film itself was daunted by the 40+ year time-span involved in telling their story, and the ending reverted to a fast-forward of worth-affirming scenes, but the relationship between these men was the central focus. Even at the end when Blalock admits that he had regrets about his life - perhaps about how he treated Thomas through the years, the situations he should have handled differently - there is no sentimentality, no explanation. Just the understanding that they two had achieved extraordinary things, proudly and with the best of intentions.

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