Something the Lord Made

Here's a dandy little 2004 movie that slid in and out of the multiplexes before we noticed. HBO can do that sometimes.

The movie starts in the 30s with the economic issues wrought by the Depression, followed by WWII with a massive number of military personnel whose lives were saved because they were prevented from going into shock by a technique developed by Alfred Blalock, played by Alan Rickman ("Harry Potter," "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and "Sense and Sensibility").

This real-life surgeon was ably assisted by his under-employed lab technician, Vivian Thomas, played by Mos Def ("The Italian Job" and "16 Blocks"). In "Jim Crow" Nashville, it was never considered appropriate for a black assistant to receive any credit for his contribution, so Thomas was not honored for his valuable input.

When Blalock was promoted and transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital, he prevailed on Thomas to move his wife and two girls from Nashville to Baltimore despite the hardships it caused. Even though he worked side by side with Blalock in his laboratory, Thomas was classified as a Class 3 Laborer on the payroll and was paid accordingly.

Consequently, while Blalock lives a life of luxury and ease, Thomas has to do part-time handyman work to help pay the rent.

At Johns Hopkins, as Head of Surgery, Blalock is determined to develop a treatment for "blue babies," babies born with faulty hearts, doomed to an early death. He and Thomas finally devise a technique that they think will work. They do the experiment over the strident objections of all the powers that be at the hospital and in 1944, open-heart surgery is born.

This is an excellent snapshot of the 30s up to the 60s, with the social upheaval, civic unrest and turbulent times for racial issues. Mos Def is wonderfully directed and has given us a performance he can be proud of. Naturally, our old work-horse Rickman, is flawless...this time with a mild Southern accent! Those Brits!