Watching Orlando Bloom in the new indie film The Good Doctor, written by John Enbom and directed by Lance Daly, a viewer might ask: Whatever happened to Orlando Bloom? In the early years of the new millennium he was everywhere, playing the elf prince Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and stalwart Will Turner in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Throw in his role as Paris in the 2004 Troy, and get a worldwide box-office total of more than $6 billion for those seven films. We don’t say that Bloom’s pretty face and excellent diction was responsible for selling all those tickets, but you’d think this bankable young actor would be continue his Hollywood ascendancy. Instead, the rise went off the Bloom. Since the third Pirates in 2007, he has receded from the limelight until, at 35, he’s become almost invisible.
Maybe the culprit was the 2005 Elizabethtown, in which Bloom meets cute with Kirsten Dunst on his way to a funeral. The Cameron Crowe romcom made no noise except for the sound of one film flopping, but it may have called attention to Bloom’s limitation: his screen decency. He seems too well behaved, too deficient in the sulfurous musk of danger, to allow for the kind of seismic explosions that earn Oscar nominations. His movie persona may reflect his Buddhist beliefs: that a man should accept what comes his way, not kick it in the shins. Since he is married to Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr, acceptance might not be such a chore.
(READ: Jeff Chu on Orlando Bloom at his 2003 peak)
The cool thing about The Good Doctor, which gives him his first starring role since Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in 2007, is its cunning use of the Bloom blandness. His Dr. Martin Blake has come over from England for residency in a Los Angeles-area hospital, where he can’t communicate with the Spanish-speaking patients and the staff acts almost as foreign. His boss, Dr. Waylans (Rob Morrow), questions Martin’s diffident attitude; Nurse Theresa (Taraji P. Henson) voices complaints about his actions; Jimmy (Michael Peña), the disorderly orderly, keeps a sharp eye on Martin’s missteps while committing plenty of his own infractions.
Who loves you, Doctor? Your winsome teenage patient Diane (Riley Keough), in with a case of pyelonephritis. She should recover, if she takes the proper medication. That will be a challenge, since when her family invited you for dinner you sneaked into the bathroom and changed her pills. The only sure way to extend Diane’s ardor, Martin figures, is to keep the girl physically dependent on her very sweet, not so good doctor. In a way he’s right: his evident devotion to his patient wins him the sympathy and admiration of most of the staff. Malpractice makes perfect.
(READ: Mary Pols on Riley Keough in Runaways)
The movie, which opens Friday but has been available for the past few weeks on Video on Demand, smartly gives Martin no backstory — no childhood trauma or public-school abuse — thus obliging viewers to see him as a blank slate on which strange thoughts are scrawled. He could be one of those pleasant, unprincipled characters, beloved of British satirists, who schemes his way to the top. (The great example: Alan Bates in the Fredric Raphael-Clive Donner Nothing But the Best, a dark gem from 1964.) Yet Martin doesn’t break the rules to get promoted; he does it for love, love, o twisted love. And it’s not just that he’s not a good doctor; he’s not a very good evil doctor. He takes stupid risks, in the hospital and, when a police detective (the ever-reliable J.K. Simmons) comes to call, at home. Poor Martin: his Hyde is nearly as feckless as his Jekyll.
Mind you, Keough is nearly worth risking life (Diane’s) and limb (Martin’s) for. The eldest grandchild of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, she has a pale, dreamy lusciousness that puts as viewer in mind of Amanda Seyfried, though without the overt sexuality. Her not-quite-there appeal matches both the opacity of Martin’s intentions and the entire underhanded, underwhelming experience that The Good Doctor offers. It passes before you like a conversation over the bedside of an anesthetized patient. Something ominous is occurring, probably to you, but you can’t quite detect its meaning. Only when you leave the hospital/theater do you realize that those whispers you overheard were lethal.