Code Black

Although more intimately made than your typical issue-debating documentary, debut filmmaker Ryan McGarry’s Code Black definitely lives up to its succinctly alarmist title. McGarry, a young E.R. doctor, chronicles his own training at Los Angeles County General Hospital, the storied birthplace of emergency medicine — and in particular one trauma bay reported to have seen more deaths, and more lives saved, per square foot than any other American place. Obviously it takes a certain kind of person to do a residency in such a place, let alone to make a movie about it. McGarry has his reasons, as do his colleagues, whose ambition and idealism we see challenged by the bureaucracy of their recent transition to a new building and with it new regulations. Suffice to say McGarry’s people-over-profit philosophy seems well earned. And his forgivably novice moviemaking technique — too much emotion-nudging music, some extraneous pieties of narration, an untidy structure — doesn’t diminish the real value of his project, which is its transcendence of (often shouted) talking points. As Pete Nicks’ affecting 2012 doc The Waiting Room was to Oakland’s Highland Hospital, so McGarry’s Code Black is to County, an impressively clear-eyed view from deep inside our public healthcare safety net. That it’s not always easy to look just means it’s more necessary.