Escape Fire: Film Review

Escape Fire

U.S. Documentary Competition

The bottom line: The impact of this forceful indictment of our healthcare system is lessened by the sheer ubiquity of similarly-themed documentaries.

Impassioned doc damning the myriad flaws in our national healthcare system.

Another week, another documentary decrying the hopeless state of our national healthcare system.

Such is the inevitable reaction to Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke’s film that seeks to cover the medical waterfront. Informative, thoughtful and impassioned, it makes its arguments effectively via a well-organized combination of talking heads, facts and statistics and personal anecdotes. But there’s no escaping the fact that the sheer profusion of similarly-themed efforts in recent years reduces their individual impact.

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It’s clear to everyone, not matter where their position on the political spectrum, that there’s a lot wrong in the current state of American medicine. And this film devastatingly points out the reasons why, including an overreliance on pharmaceutical solutions rather than preventive care; the pernicious effects of bad lifestyle choices; the system of hospital and physician reimbursement that accentuates profits and volume rather than maximum attention; and the lack of regard for alternative medical treatments, among many others.

Among those offering commentary and possible solutions are medical journalist Shannon Brownlee and former Medicare head Don Berwick, as well as such well-known lifestyle gurus as Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Andrew Weil. The latter’s narrated tour through the nutritional monstrosities offered in a typical convenience store constitutes one of the film’s highlights.

Among the damning facts presented are that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in this country and that primary care physicians earn only half as much as specialists.

The film is most effective when it concentrates on such individual stories as that of Dr. Erin Martin, a primary care doctor disgusted over a system that forced her to spend as little time with patients as possible, and Sergeant Robert Yates, an injured Afghani war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who was on a heavy diet of pills until finally finding relief via such alternative therapies as meditation and acupuncture.

Unlike many other damning cinematic indictments, Escape Fire — the symbolic title refers to the counter-intuitive method of starting one fire to stop another — does offer the optimistic view that solutions to the problems are within reach. That is, if viewers are still healthy enough to make the effort.  

Opens Oct. 5 (Roadside Attractions).

Production: Aisle C Productions, Our Time Projects.

Directors/producers: Matthew Heineman, Susan Froemke.

Executive producer: Doug Scott.

Director of photography: Wolfgang Held.

Editor: Bradley J. Ross.

Composers: Chad Kelly, Moby.

Rated PG-13, 99 min.