For the sake of full disclosure I should divulge that my son has attended Ben Carson’s Science Academy so even though I don’t know Dr. Carson he and his various institutions do play a rather important part in the lives of me and my family. Just tossing that little factoid out there because none of that will affect my judgment when passing judgment on this movie ‘Gifted Hands’… nor will the fact that I’ve read the book that this film is based on and I am of the belief that Dr. Ben Carson is easily one of the most important people on the planet earth in twentieth century. Total impartiality baby.
The film opens in 1987 with Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins University, Dr. Ben Carson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) prepping for surgery. Halfway across the world in Germany a young couple is dealing with a serious problem of their own for they have twin boys conjoined at the head sharing a brain and if they are not separated they are fated for a lifetime in bed on their backs. These surgeries have been attempted before but they usually end in one child, if not both, dying during surgery. By this time Ben Carson is the preeminent child neurosurgeon on the planet and the hospital chief approaches him with the challenge of separating the twins, a challenge that even causes the great Ben Carson to pause. Eventually however he agrees to the surgery but there are problems he has to find a way to solve before surgery can begin.
But before he got there Ben Carson had to come from somewhere and that somewhere would be Detroit Michigan, in the early sixties, where he was an underachieving student living dirt poor and fatherless along with his older brother Curtis and mother Sonya (Kimberly Elise). And while his mother Sonya was fiercely loyal to her boys, she had her own issues she was dealing such as illiteracy and a battle with depression.
Eventually Sonya got through to both Ben and Curtis, while conquering her own demons, with both boys excelling exceptionally well in school, trudging through the overtly racist attitudes of the time, though Ben still had some anger management issues he had to work through, a rather serious problem that threatened to derail all of the hard work that his mother put into him and that he had put into himself.
The film then jumps ahead to Yale where Ben would meet his future wife and classical violinist Candy (Aunjanue Ellis) and again he would struggle until, I guess, he discovered that he was blessed with a photographic memory. A gift I’m thinking would’ve helped him out even more if he figured out he had this gift a little earlier on.
Eventually the film brings us back where we started with Ben going through his internship at Johns Hopkins, successfully pioneering amazing surgical techniques, dealing with personal tragedy while leading up to the landmark separation of the Rausch Twins. I hate to spoil it for you but they survived. Actually Ted Koppell spoiled it because I saw the story on Nightline or something over twenty years ago.
Directed by longtime film veteran Thomas Carter, who we’ve been a fan of ever since he was running the point for the Carver High basketball team on ‘The White Shadow’, ‘Gifted Hands’ is a fine biography of a phenomenal human being. If you approach this film without any previous knowledge of Dr. Benjamin Carson and his long list of accomplishments, his dedication to his craft, his family and his public service then I can’t think of better primer to get familiar with this man than this movie. I imagine it is difficult for any actor to play a character of whom some of us are very familiar with considering that character is alive and well, which invariably prompts for a side by side comparison between the real man and the actor playing the man but to Cuba Gooding Jr.’s credit he did a fine job in bringing Ben Carson to life on screen. It also helped that he had the assistance of young actors Jaishon Fisher and Gregory Dockery II who played Ben Carson as a child and a teenager respectively to effectively bridge into Mr. Gooding Jr.’s performance of Dr. Carson as an adult. The real-life Ben Carson has this odd almost angelic calm to his demeanor that immediately puts you at ease while hearing him speak and while Gooding Jr. didn’t quite capture that part of Ben Carson he did a formidable job in purveying to us that this is something that isn’t one Ben Carson’s many gifts, instead this is something that he has to work at on a daily basis to maintain.
Kimberly Elise is a fantastic actress and not surprisingly she was stellar as the film’s emotionally anchor playing Sonya Carson. The same can be said for Aunjanue Ellis who was also outstanding as Dr. Carson’s understanding wife Candy. We might also throw in that the 1970’s wig-fro they had Ms. Ellis wearing was simply outstanding. A perfectly round afro. Somewhere Jim Kelly beams with pride.
If there’s an issue to be had with ‘Gifted Hands’ it would only be that it’s too short. There’s a lot to the life of Dr. Ben Carson who is still doing amazing things to this day, as I can personally attest to, that the movie simply doesn’t have the time get into. Since the movie is only around ninety minutes long there wasn’t time to go into the relationship he has with his brother Curtis and it could really only gloss over the important stages in his life to keep things moving. While each of these stages was handled expertly and each given equal weight they did feel brief if not totally rushed.
Regardless ‘Gifted Hands’ is a fine biography of one the most important living historical figures in our country and it is nothing less than recommended viewing for anyone wishing to know about the life Dr. Benjamin Carson.