Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Austin Stark
Writers: Austin Stark (story by), Mark St. German (based on the play by)
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, Colman Domingo
By Tom Moore
Writer/director Austin Stark’s sophomore effort, “The God Committee”(2021), is full of strong thrills and a deep dissection of the effects of life-altering decisions.
The film brings us into the room of a hospital committee of doctors, psychologists, and specialists that attempt to come together to decide which patients will get organ transplants. It’s a premise that immediately impacts you with how dire the decision the group makes is and with the clock always ticking, every thought or remark could play a pivotal role in someone getting or not getting the transplant they need to survive. Every time Stark puts us into that boardroom, the atmosphere of the film instantly becomes much more pressing, and you’re left on the edge of your seat wondering how things are going to shake out. Stark does an excellent job fleshing out all the little details and obstacles that come into play in this process and makes every instance of seeing this play out endlessly captivating.
Outside of the chance of survival and medical history of the patients, there’s a personality or character element to the decision making that not only reflects the patients, but also those in the committee. The kind of support system the patient has, their mental health, and even the relationships they have with those around them can affect the decision making and it’s what makes the situation so complex and compelling. The idea behind the committee is to make sure that the organs that are being transplanted are going to good people. However, with the program facing budget cuts that could threaten the lives of many patients, everything changes when money comes into play and that’s exactly what happens when the son of a wealthy investor is wheeled into the hospital in need of a heart transplant and his father flashes some money to move him up the line.
This situation perfectly tests the ethics and morals of everyone in the room and brings out some great dialogue between characters that showcases some of the great performances. Once news of this money possibly being on the table becomes known, the entire direction of the discussion moves towards dissecting the ethics of each person and their role on this committee. Although Dr. Boxer’s (Kelsey Grammer) mentality towards these situations is to be logical and precise with a cold outlook, his emotions are tested greatly with the discovery of crucial information about their situation. Dr. Taylor (Julia Stiles) might be new to this committee but is forced to find a perfect gray area between her emotional connections to her patients and making a logical choice. It’s even interesting to have the presence of Father Dunbar (Colman Domingo), both a priest and lawyer to the hospital board, as he questions if the group is making the right choice or just playing God. All these performances are top tier, especially from Grammer, and really work well together in creating a thrilling, complex situation that tugs at your own ethics and makes you think deeper about the situation.
It eventually leads to heartbreaking conclusions that feel all too real and delve into the issues of this broken system and the broken lives it can create. It’s actually interesting how Stark weaves together both the present situation of the group and the aftermath years later for these characters and how it affects their work and personal relationships. There are some great arcs for both Boxer and Taylor, but this execution of having these two situations weave in and out of the film doesn’t always work in the film’s benefit. At times it can create a very thrilling mystery of how things played out and has some strong storytelling when it comes to delving into how this instance changed the lives of these people for years. However, the aftermath story just isn’t as thrilling or captivating as the “present” story so it can end up breaking the film’s thrilling momentum. Also, the idea of it being an aftermath doesn’t always come fully through since it can’t always reveal the full effect this instance had on the characters without giving away its “present” plot.
Regardless of its storytelling woes, “The God Committee” is a thrilling outing for Stark full of great performances and heartbreaking dissections on how organ transplants are decided that pulls back the curtain to see the success and failures of its titular committee.