Guy Malim’s short film Medicine Men deals with what happens when an Old Western town is beset upon by a plague. While father and son doctor team William (Richard Neil) and Colt (Reese Mishler) have the vaccination that can turn the tide on the sickness, the townsfolk are none too keen, or knowledgeable, about the science of inoculation and quarantines. They’d rather turn to the showmanship of the local cure-all peddler, Ozwald (Circus-Szalewski), putting more faith in a hoped-for miracle than the burgeoning science of the day. As the death toll begins to climb, all three medicine men find themselves working together to find the best process for saving the town from itself.
As a period piece, Medicine Men had me from the jump. It looks sufficiently Old West, complete with ever-present dust and dirt on the skin of every person in the frame. And while I can’t say I’m educated on the type of medical equipment of the day, I will say that the vaccination needles the short leads me to believe were in use during that era had me freaked out. I can understand why someone would turn to a painless elixir over what looks like a nail.
What I liked about the overall story, beyond the period affectations, was the multiple layers of drama and character arcs the film developed in its short running time. It’s as much a tale of the slow turning of a scientific tide as it is a study of a strained father-son relationship, and the coming of age, and into his own, of Colt. Simply stated, there is quite a bit going on beneath the surface in this film, and all the actors involved rise to challenges of conveying it all convincingly. If the film stumbles anywhere, it’s that the common townsfolk seem a bit too one-note (and fickle) in their ignorance. Then again, that may not be entirely inaccurate or unrealistic.
All told, Medicine Men is a success from start to finish. The cinematography is top-of-the-hill, the art direction is incredible, the sound is on-point and the acting is wonderful. Honestly, I couldn’t find a technical hitch to critique in the entire film and, you know, that’s pretty much what I do. I look forward to seeing what filmmaker Guy Malim has up his sleeve for his next film.
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