23 August 2013

Movie Review: "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story"

Rated: Not Rated (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Kimberly Elise, and Jaishon Fisher
Released: February 7, 2009 (TNT premiere) / September 8, 2009 (DVD)
Synopsis: Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, has just been presented with a daunting medical case: newborn twins conjoined at the head. The infants' parents don't want to lose either of their new babies, and Dr. Carson doesn't want it to come to that either. However, what's even more remarkable is how Dr. Carson came to be one of the world's "top docs". From his rough childhood to his teenage rebellion to attending Yale on a scholarship…all of those experiences made him who he is today. Based on a true story.

Artistic Merit 

Plot: 5/5
I don't usually do biopics, but this one has an excellent narrative. I almost watched the entire movie in one sitting, and I rarely do that with films of any length. If you watch this movie, don't make any plans for the next ninety minutes, because you will likely be glued to the screen.

Production Values: 5/5
This telefilm was distributed by Sony Pictures and backed/sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, and it shows. All of the actors and actresses, especially Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the main character, did extremely well. The sets and everything were great, too; in the scenes from Dr. Carson's childhood, I really felt like I was back during that time, especially when they showed now-vintage television programs on an old-school TV set. Nothing to complain about in this department.

Moral Content 

Positive Elements: 5/5
Most of the movie is quite positive. Dr. Carson shows a faith in God throughout his life, and so do his family members. Literacy is praised, as Dr. Carson and his brother become avid readers as children, and their illiterate mother also willingly learns to read. Dr. Carson's love for books also helps him succeed in school. His mother, despite her issues, is a voice of reason, and encourages both of her sons to believe in themselves. The power of a loving family, and how far doing well in school can get you, is also shown.

Sex: 4.5/5
It is mentioned that Dr. Carson's father had another wife and kids while being married to Dr. Carson's mother.

Nudity: 5/5

Language: 4.25/5
A bit of name-calling and insults among kids at school, including a few "mama jokes". Someone says "go to hell."

Violence: 1.75/5
As Dr. Carson is a surgeon, some of his operations are shown, and in rather lurid detail. Some viewers may not mind, but those who are squeamish might not want to see a bare heart beating or blood coming from a wound. Yes, I realize that this isn't a horror movie that has gore and such just for giggles; still, it was wince-inducing even for me. Also of note: Part of Dr. Carson's troubled childhood involves him getting into fights; once with a lock in his hand, the other with a pocket knife. Though neither are graphically shown, in the former case, it is mentioned that the victim "had to get five stitches."

Drugs: 4.5/5
A young man from the wrong side of the tracks is shown with a cigarette behind his ear.  

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1.5/5
See the first paragraph under "Violence". Also of note: A traumatic incident or two causes some emotional intensity.

Conclusion: Inspiring and gruesome. Those words don't usually go together, but that's how this biopic of Dr. Carson ended up being. Though I knew of his checkered past, I didn't expect the operations to be shown in such detail, and there was no MPAA advisory to warn me, either. If you can watch someone being operated on in detail without even blinking, then you should be fine with Gifted Hands. However, those who can't take it should stick to other true-story flicks.

Score: 3.75/5

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