The Pitch: Psychotherapist Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is a man in the grips of mourning — not just for the recent loss of his wife (Laura Niemi) to cancer, but also for his strained relationship with his son Ezra (Andrew Leeds), whose choice to become an Orthodox Jew has drawn a deep rift against his more liberal Jewish father.
But Alan receives the challenge of a lifetime in the form of Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson), a new patient who seems cagey, mysterious, and unable to truly open up. Turns out, that’s because Sam is a serial killer, one desperately searching for a way to stamp out his compulsions, and he hopes that Alan’s expertise can help.
In classic serial-killer fashion, that means kidnapping Alan, chaining him to the basement of his mother’s remote house out in the woods, and forcing him to conduct session after session to work out the root of Sam’s murderous impulses. Complicating things further, his long-suffering mother Candace (Linda Emond) knows about Sam’s compulsions, but refuses to do anything to compromise her son’s freedom.
It’s a game of survival for Alan, one rooted in his desire to live as much as it is to see Sam change his ways. And in the meantime, he gets plenty of time among takeout meals and long stretches of isolation to think about his own grief, his relationship to Judaism, and whether he can escape his makeshift prison on his own. Then again… what if he can make Sam better?
Analyze This: Therapy has long been a fertile field for drama in film and television; take one character with heaps of conflict and mash them against a dispassionate third party whose job it is to get under their skin and reveal their hidden motivations/fears/hopes. You’ve got tremendous potential for narrative catharsis.
But The Patient ups the ante by giving its therapist character skin in the game — not only does Alan have to just keep talking to survive till the next day, he’s deeply concerned for Sam’s future victims (Sam’s eyeing a Greek restaurant employee who treated him like crap at his job as a restaurant inspector for his next target). Most intriguingly, Alan also holds out the slimmest hope that maybe, just maybe, he can actually change Sam for the better, and it’s that hope that strings together much of The Patient‘s narrative momentum.