The Physician is one of the best epic adventure films I’ve ever seen—there that pretty much says it. However, the folks at Influx will not allow single-sentence reviews, so I suppose I should talk about the movie a bit and explain why I enjoyed it so much.
The film begins in England during the Middle Ages. A boy watches his mother die and no one can help. After all, there aren’t any doctors and medicine is extremely primitive. Having no place to live, he takes up with the closest thing they have to a doctor—a barber! The guy is very gruff and his knowledge of medicine is negligible but young Rob Cole (Thomas Payne) learns what he can from his new guardian—including very, very basic surgery, since in those days, barbers often supplemented their income with such procedures. Later, when Rob’s guardian loses his sight, a Jewish surgeon does cataract surgery! Rob is intrigued—where DID this man learn such advanced techniques? He learns that there is a medical school but unfortunately it’s in the East…in Muslim land. And Christians are NOT welcome there. So Rob comes up with a seemingly insane plan—to pose as a Jew and enroll in the school. I know what you might be thinking…yes, Jews were treated well in Muslim lands at the time and were quite welcome. And, the only hospitals and true doctors in the world were in these same lands.
The first thing Rob needs to do is a VERY painful thing indeed. To make himself appear to be a Jew, he not only cuts his hair but his schmeckle. I would say more, but just don’t know if Influx will let me elaborate further. Suffice to say, it was a very painful but relatively minor operation! Then, he joins a caravan heading East. Along the way, he meets a beautiful Jewish woman and you KNOW that more will come of this relationship—but that comes much, much later in the film. In the meantime, Rob must survive a killer sand storm, find the medical school and somehow get himself admitted. What’s next? Well, what I’ve told you occurs only in the first 45 minutes or so—and the film has nearly another two hours! But, considering how exciting Rob’s adventures are, you won’t find yourself squirming or getting bored! All too often, I’ve found epic films have great difficulty maintaining their pace—this is certainly NOT a problem here.
This movie has nearly everything going for it. The script is very intelligent, engaging and fascinating. Rarely is history made this fascinating in movies—but this fictionalized story is sprinkled with interesting tidbits about the times, the way folks lived and what it was like to be a doctor in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’. Excellent acting is also evident throughout—with Ben Kingsley providing a nice bit of class and an excellent performance as Rob’s teacher. However, it’s not all Kingsley. Despite a lot of relatively unknown actors, they deliver the goods. In particular, Tom Payne is quite good in the lead. Add to the acting great cinematography, excellent direction, a wonderful soundtrack and a real sense of escapism, and you have a heck of a film.
So if I enjoyed the film THIS much, why didn’t I score it an A+? Well, I rarely would give such a score to any film—and this one nearly earned it. However, I was a bit irritated that such a great history lesson would include quite a bit of nudity, as the film otherwise would have been wonderful for teens. Why did they have to do this when the film didn’t need any of this to advance the plot? I might still consider recommending the film for teens but understand that many parents would blanch at letting their kids watch a rated R film. I very, very minor trimming (which would have done nothing to harm the plot) could have easily made this one PG-13…and would have earned the highest possible mark from me.