Medicine Man
directed by John McTiernan
(Buena Vista, 1992)

Medicine Man is highly underrated. It's sometimes dismissed as a preachy eco-flick, and certainly the message about preserving the South American rainforest and protecting its indigent people, plants and animals is unapologetically blatant. That's a bad thing?

The movie features Sean Connery as the eccentric Dr. Robert Campbell, who has spent six years in the rainforest seeking miracle cures in the employ of an American pharmaceutical firm. But Campbell is disappearing deeper and deeper into the bush, becoming less communicative over the years, and Dr. Rae Crane (Lorraine Bracco) is dispatched to pose as his research assistant while determining whether or not to cut off his funding.

But Campbell has found -- and lost -- a possible cure for cancer. His determination to find the elusive ingredient is fueled by the approaching pall of smoke that hangs over civilization, drawing near in the form of a rapidly encroaching road. Crane, wielding a wicked Bronx accent, is caught up in his quest despite her initial discomfort in their rough surroundings.

Some of the more delightful scenes are the simple interactions between Campbell and the people of his adopted aboriginal village. But there's horror lurking beneath the surface -- remnants of a tragedy which struck in the doctor's wake during an earlier expedition to a different village. And there's Crane's growing sense of wonder as she's more fully exposed to her new environment, the spectacular vistas available from canopy-level explorations, and the unusual cures available to her in "Mother Nature's Kitchen."

Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack does a great job of capturing the film's atmosphere. The movie was filmed in Veracruz, Mexico, apparently after director John McTiernan discovered that the Borneo rainforest where he'd shot Predator five years before had already vanished. Brazilian aborigines were imported for accuracy's sake. (In a Hollywood quirk related in some way, no doubt, to years of National Geographic, aboriginal breasts and butts don't affect ratings, but Hollywood breasts and butts do. Bracco makes do with thin, tight t-shirts.)

And if there's a message in the movie -- so what? It's an important message regardless of anyone's stance on environmental issues, and Connery and Bracco do a fine job of casting it into sharp, unavoidable relief.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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