I have to admit upfront about a personal bias against any film that starts out with a stranger waking up in a strange place with no memory of how he or she got there. The amnesia tactic to introduce mystery by proxy always seemed to me to be a way of forcing an audience into a mystery that might otherwise be lackluster or less-than-engaging. That being said, “The Fifth Patient” is anything but lazy, unraveling a mystery that maybe unravels too far, but is otherwise a powerful and captivating viewing experience.
An American wakes up in a hospital in an African town run by a military regime, with no memory of how he got there. He’s scratched and damaged to Hell, can’t walk and is constantly getting questioned. The local military thinks he’s a CIA agent, there may be a CIA agent posing as his brother who visits him in the evening and on top of that he seems to be the key to finding a terrorist mastermind.
It gets confusing at times, and I’m not about to start recounting full scenarios in an effort to explain it, because I feel the strength of the film is how it reveals itself, and the American’s character. Like most films with an amnesiac protagonist, we’re automatically on their side, hoping to find out how they were wronged, why they’re being tortured, but as more and more of American’s personality is revealed, you start to get a bad vibe. He seems to know too much about lying, manipulation and cruelty. He seems too adept at sudden violence and outburst. In short, he may not be someone you want to root for.
To that task, all credit goes to Nick Chinlund for playing the confused amnesiac American so well. It’s a tough acting role, going from victim to hero to questionable hero to… well, see the damn movie for yourself, and then YOU decide who is who and what is what.
Ultimately, “The Fifth Patient” is a very engaging thriller mystery with maybe one or two twists and turns too many. The film could’ve ended in a few places and been more fulfilling to my tastes, but that doesn’t make it a poor film, and the ending doesn’t do quite as much damage to all that came before it like the ending of “Haute Tension” did to itself. Worth checking out if you can.