June 10th, 2022
STARRING: NAMIR SMALLWOOD, SIDNEY FLANIGAN, MICHAEL POTTS
DIRECTED BY: ALEX THOMPSON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
You can look at a film like Rounding and just experience the surface of its narrative: A young medical resident is struggling with his own ability to care in a traditional way for his patients. However, what emerges from Chicago writer/director Alex Thompson’s work is one of deep seated trauma and emotional frailty, that on the one hand helps the main character’s empathic journey with patients, while also potentially unnerving the goals of the medical profession to which he is a part of. That is the conflict, the constant balance between right and wrong, where the lives of others are on the line.
When the film begins, the resident, James (Namir Smallwood), is seen by the bedside of an older woman in her final stages of life. As the end nears, James has a breakdown and faints in the hospital corridor. What follows are his attempts to reclaim himself and his passion by becoming a resident at a rural hospital in a small Illinois town called Greenville. James continues to struggle with some of the most intense moments and is seen vomiting and hiding in rooms to keep his anxious reactions from the view of others, in particular the leading hospital medical professional, Dr. Harrison (Michael Potts).
James is a very complex character, whose inner demons are revealed, in part, through the nervous energy of his shaking feet and gradually horrifying skin condition. On the surface, he is tentative, quiet, and a bit reserved, as he mumbles his way through patient hospital rooms. He’s not a character though that we’d say should not be part of the medical profession. James bucks the system as he views patients from a perspective that doesn’t conform to the usual methods of diagnosis and treatment. In particular, with a severely asthmatic patient, played by Sidney Flanigan, best known for her unnerving performance in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, he begins seeing something more than Harrison and the other residents who are working on her case. James thinks outside of the box with his own, perhaps disturbing mental point of view, which features demonic visions and dragon-like creatures. The film suggests that in order to see patients from new perspectives one might have to really be twisted inside so as not to be bound by the rules of contemporary medicine and its standardized methods of treatment.
If those last few sentences throw you for a loop then you’d have a pretty good sense as to what Thompson is trying to achieve here. This is not a traditional medical drama in the vein of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. Rather, Thompson fuses together elements we might associate with such medical dramas with thrills and personal horror while still possessing a grasp on the realities and pressures of a young doctor’s career. I couldn’t help but be reminded by Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, on a different profession in the medical field, which highlights the terrifying experiences of a New York city EMT.
Most of the drama would be difficult to discern- if not for the finely tuned mood and tone Thompson establishes throughout the film. It’s winter and thus darker, colder both in and outside these hospital settings. This is an atmosphere we begin to live in, where a traditional sunny disposition would throw off the darkness of the narrative, and coincidentally derail James’s inner world.
The strong performances add to the mystery and suspense that builds throughout Rounding. Namir Smallwood is appropriately aloof and intense as his character manufactures his own unique ideologies and visions. The excellent Michael Potts is subtle, yet no less fierce, creating a dynamic presence as Dr. Harrison. Sidney Flanigan shows more of what she can do with a broader performance than we saw in her much-lauded role in the aforementioned Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
Generally, the pacing of the film is fast, with many ellipses, which at times might leave audiences wondering about the time and space between scenes. It’s a strong change of pace for Alex Thompson. The film does lose steam later in the narrative where James drives around Greenville in search of answers. However, these choices don’t unhinge the story and its ability to intrigue or perplex viewers. This latter feeling will still be felt by the end but Thompson does provide a dialogue between James and Harrison to tie up any loose ends the narrative has.
Rounding is a film for those who want to experience an intense drama. This is a different kind of medical story, one that isn’t overly horrific, yet terrifying enough to leave viewers unnerved. One cannot help but be sympathetic to the struggles a young doctor experiences as they work their way up the hospital ladder.
ROUNDING IS CURRENTLY PLAYING AS PART OF THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL AT HOME SERIES. TICKETS AND A LINK FOR THE VIRTUAL SCREENING CAN BE PURCHASED AT https://tribecafilm.com/films/rounding-2022
Written by: Dan Pal