When Lori Reimuller (Meryl Streep - Marvin's Room) receives a call from the school to say her youngest, Robbie (Seth Adkins - Taming Andrew), had a fall she thinks it is just one of those things and takes him home. But when he has a seizure she rushes him to hospital where she and her husband, Dave (Fred Ward - Chain Reaction), are told that having two seizures means that Robbie is epileptic. Placed on medication to try and control his seizures it causes Robbie to become hyper active which leads to another prescription for a drug which drains him of life, all the time the seizures not only continue but get progressively worse. When one of the drugs cause Robbie to become violent he ends up hospitalized as another drug puts him into a permanent state of seizure. With no improvement Lori takes it upon herself to research treatments for epilepsy and discovers the ketogenic diet could help. But she finds herself being blocked by doctors who dismiss the treatment in favour of yet more medication and possibly surgery.
Anyone who regularly visits The Movie Scene will know I am a fan of TV movies and as such I have to say it is rare to come across one which not only has a star of the calibre of Meryl Streep but also has a mainstream director as Jim Abrahams. These two certainly make a difference and lift "...First Do No Harm" to the point that it doesn't feel like a TV movie. But it is also Jim Abrahams' personal interest in the story, as his own son's epilepsy was controlled by the ketogenic diet, which helps to make it more than average. His interest makes the movie not only more realistic but also more rational as "...First Do No Harm" is the sort of movie which could easily have gone over board and not only become a spiteful attack on the medical establishment but also a schmatlzy one.
Now there are two sides to "...First Do No Harm" and the first side is a look at epilepsy which is hard going for those who have dealt with this illness and eye opening for those who are naive to it. We go from what seems an innocent fall to frequent and frightening seizures as well as the constant testing of medication which may or may not work. We see how treating epilepsy almost comes down to luck as to what combination of medication will work whilst also seeing the side effects some drugs have. And of course we get to see the impact of Robbie's epilepsy on the family, from the escalating cost of treatment to how it emotionally affects other members of the family. "...First Do No Harm" is a thorough look at the illness with out being just facts and will open people's eyes who have never had dealings with epilepsy.
But then there is the second side to "...First Do No Harm" and that is to be frank the condemnation of the medical establishment who at the time, and maybe still are, are blinkered to alternative treatments. What that means is that we see how the doctors won't listen to Lori when she brings up the ketogenic diet as they have their drugs and surgery to try. Now this is where "...First Do No Harm" could have become seriously far fetched and overly dramatic but thanks to Jim Abrahams he keeps it under control so whilst there is plenty of drama, including a scene where out of desperation Lori tries to sneak her son out of the hospital, it never becomes about dramatic sensationalism but always the battle for what is best for Robbie.
All of this makes "...First Do No Harm" a powerful movie with a great storyline but it is also a made for TV movie with above average performances. I am not just on about Meryl Streep who is, as you would expect, good but the rest of the cast which includes Fred Ward, Tom Butler and Margo Martindale all step up their game to deliver realistic characters. But at the same time a young Seth Adkins also needs to be mentioned because his delivery of Robbie's epileptic seizures is uncomfortably real.
What this all boils down to is that "...First Do No Harm" is an above average made for TV movie which is both eye opening and hard hitting. For those who are dealing with a friend or relative with epilepsy it will help explain things and at the same time will be educational for those who have never been confronted by the illness.