‘The Fifth Patient’ (2007)

While I watched The Fifth Patient , I couldn’t help but think that the gamesmanship of writer/director Amir Mann resembled that of  Memento (Christopher Nolan , 2000).  Both films use amnesia as a plot-point and in both films there’s a point at which overthinking gets in the way of understanding the movie.

Nick Chinlund is John Reilly (a ‘ Reilly, Ace of Spies ‘ reference?) involved in some double-agentry that the audience hasn’t been informed of, and the character goes through several changes about what he knows and what he may or may not know. Malheuresement , I feel that Amir Mann hasn’t done enough to win my sympathy for Reilly and his predicament.

Why has Mann chosen Africa as the site of Reilly’s imprisonment? The Middle East would have been a more timely place for the story to occur,  with the subtext of extraordinary rendition. Mann gave away currency and revelence when he chose to site his drama in Africa.

The Fifth Patient is stylish, timely and relevant film punctuated by an occasional subliminal message/dream-state/flash-back editing style. For all of it’s good looks, director Mann willfully resists competing the protein that would make his film stand out. Perhaps Mann and the studio were trying not to be too on-the-nose with his anti-war statement, but he film loses a lot of potential by opting out of current events.

One other thing that mars this film is over-explanation. They mention that Reilly has been programmed, re-programmed and programmed again. In the plot-holes where Reilly and his alleged wife, Helen (Marley Shelton) are talking about the family life he can’t remember. But a wife and 2.5 kids are the American dream, something that Reilly shouldn’t necessarily question laying claim to. At another point in the script, one of Reilly’s African wardens makes a point about Western arrogance, “Americans are just naïve — I’m a reralist. I realize that sometimes bad things have to happen for the greater good.” The African Prison Warden literally lectures Reilly, the American, on the Realpolitik of the Bush II years. Wow, just wow. Nice swing, but…

During interviews with his wife-apparent (Shelton), Reilly asks Helen whether they have any children and how they met, since he has no memory of them, only her word that she is his wife. Just like John Byrne’s, “Once In a Lifetime”, this scene begged the question, “You may ask yourself, this is not my beautiful house/You may ask yourself this is not my beautiful wife”. This scene comes and goes without apparent significance, but a better director would have forced this scene to hang a bit more significantly because it’s here that writer-director Mann touches down on one of his central themes — identity — and fails to make it a structural component of his drama. Perhaps it’s just this reviewer, but for reasons such as this, it sometimes felt as though it was shot by a director who had overlooked the writer’s intentions.

How did Helen even get to Ngobo in the first place? Did the government of Ngobo just take her identity at face-value when she turned up? Did Ngobo pay for her passage or did the Americans? And the revolving-door of suited white men who were able to gain access to Reilly seemed to defy common sense.

Yet, this film has the courage to investigate the tortuous perils and paranooia of a war we’ve been involved with for the better part of a decade. While the script could suffer a touch-up and some performances be sharpened (a slow-clap towards the end fails me), the cinematography and art direction were solid. I give it a 4/5.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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