Not Rated | 1h 26min | Biography, Drama | TV Movie 7 February 2009
As my review of “The Ron Clark Story” just last week revealed, inspirational films based on real people are much more effective. They are a lens into exceptional lives that we can all learn from, no matter what our own hindrances and backgrounds.
Director Thomas Carter’s (“Coach Carter,” 2005; “Save the Last Dance,” 2001) “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” is a biopic based on the incredible life of neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.
The film certainly didn’t begin as I’d assumed it would. Ben overcame quite a few challenges in his younger life; it is during these times that the film is most interesting.
Ben’s father abandoned his family when Ben was just a young boy (played by Jaishon Fisher and later Gus Hoffman as a youth). His mother, Sonya (Kimberly Elise, “The Manchurian Candidate,” 2004), is raising Ben and his brother, Curtis (Tajh Bellow), as best she can.
Sonya, a housemaid, is not only illiterate but also struggles with mental illness. A good-hearted, God-fearing woman, she takes her boys to church often and instills in them the values of hard work and discipline.
But there’s a problem: Ben has his own struggles in the form of learning disabilities. He’s behind in his classes and frequently receives F grades on assignments. Because of this, as well as being one of the few black kids at the school, Ben is frequently bullied by his classmates. On one occasion, as he is relentlessly taunted, he comes out swinging and slugs one of his tormentors. It is here that we see Ben’s anger issues.
Sonya soon discovers that Ben has vision problems and buys him a pair of glasses, enabling him to boost his grades. But his real turning point occurs when he attends church one Sunday, and as the pastor gives a fiery sermon, Ben’s imagination takes off: He is inspired to become a doctor.
Although poor, Sonya is rich in her belief in her sons. With a hefty number of pep talks (as well as some good old-fashioned discipline), Sonya inspires her boys to read as many books as they can get their hands on. Soon, Ben and Curtis are answering “Jeopardy” show questions before any of the TV contestants.
Due to Ben’s voracious appetite for learning, a science teacher notices the youth’s intellect and shows him organisms under a microscope. From there, Ben moves from strength to strength, letting his mind absorb as it can.
A few years later, Sonya, having saved money, moves the boys from their Detroit tenement into a house close to a prestigious high school. She figures that having her boys attend the school is their best shot at breaking the chains of poverty.
But things take a dark turn when Ben’s anger rears its ugly head again: One of his friends taunts him, and Ben stabs his buddy with a knife. Miraculously, the blade hits the boy’s metal belt buckle and snaps in half. Shocked by his own violence, Ben runs home, locks himself in his bedroom, hits his knees, and prays to God to remove his volatile temper.
Ben manages to earn a full scholarship to Yale University, where he also attends medical school. He meets his perfect counterpart and future wife, Candy (Aunjanue Ellis), who’s brilliant in her own right. Ben reveals to her that he is struggling to keep up with his classes. But Candy figures out a workaround for Ben’s obstacles in the form of cue cards, since he has such a tremendous reading memory. From there, Ben becomes a pediatric neurosurgeon and goes on to achieve many great things.
Casting Does the Job
Just as with “The Ron Clark Story,” this film benefited from shrewd casting. Gooding Jr. is convincing as the college-aged, and later, Dr. Ben Carson. As well, Elise is great as his ever-supportive mother who sees past their dire circumstances.
Ellis is very capable in the few scenes she’s in, but since most of the movie takes place during Ben’s childhood years in the 1960s, we don’t see much of her. I have to say that both Jaishon Fisher and Gus Hoffman are exceptional in portraying Ben as a young boy and teen, respectively.
Overall, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” is a well-acted and well-directed biopic that shows what people can achieve despite difficulties. Through his faith in God, his ferocious intellect, and his mother’s indefatigable belief in him, Ben was able to overcome early handicaps and go on to a formidable future. At the same time, it also reminds us that if talents go unrecognized, some children may never live up to their potential.
‘Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story’
Director: Thomas Carter
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Kimberly Elise, Aunjanue Ellis
Rated: Not Rated
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2009, (TV movie)
Rated: 4.5 stars out of 5