Picks and Pans Review: Threshold

updated 03/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

The timing is phenomenal: a film about the world's first human to receive an artificial heart. The subject, however, is not Dr. Barney Clark but a 20-year-old woman, played by Mare Winningham. The graphic realism of the film is reminiscent of a documentary. Yet this is a drama, a fact that almost gets lost amid the clinical precision. Donald Sutherland is cast as an acclaimed heart surgeon frustrated by the limits of traditional operating procedures. Jeff Goldblum is the intense young biologist obsessed by his experiments with artificial hearts. They are researching the problem when Winningham (best known for the TV movie Off the Minnesota Strip) appears. She is desperate; all standard operations have failed. Symbolism is abundant, from Winningham's feeling of emptiness after her heart is removed to Goldblum's self-serving quest for glory, which destroys his sense of humanity. But the film, for the most part, avoids overwrought emotionalism. Sutherland's interpretation of the surgeon is marvelous; he spent two days interviewing and observing cardiac surgeon Denton Cooley to prepare for the role. Yet his technical concerns didn't prevent him from adding restrained touches of humor to his performance. That makes his character a most convincing and sympathetic one. Goldblum's biologist has an appropriate otherworldliness, and Winningham conveys an appealing mix of uncertainty and bravado. Director Richard (Woodstock) Pearce's documentary experience is in evidence, while James Salter's original screenplay creates a tense hospital atmosphere. It might spoil the film to reveal its ending, but however the operation turns out, Threshold is a huge success. (PG)

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