Waiting Room Directed by Peter Nicks Tues., June 19 at 8:45 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre 2. Also on Wed., June 20, at 2:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre 1.

Early on in The Waiting Room, a physician at the Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., mentions how ER’s high-adrenaline, primetime action inspired countless careers in critical care. But while gunshot victims occasionally arrive in need of immediate salvation, he notes, refilling diabetes medication before a patient runs out matters just as much. The Waiting Room doesn’t need disaster-movie camera work to captivate, either. This emergency room’s generic yet claustrophobic nexus of need provides more than enough human drama. The literal pain of waiting with a bullet wound while ambulances deliver more victims abuts the challenge of explaining high-acuity triage to a patient demanding to be seen. A frequent visitor with a nasty meth habit gets a “million-dollar workup for a rough night out,” while a young couple confronts a testicular cancer diagnosis sans insurance. Cutting across race, culture, and class, the film inhabits a remarkably broad cross-section of American urban life and imparts a deep sense of frustration. Yet The Waiting Room doesn’t simply shed light on a broken healthcare system; like the best dramas, it humbly illuminates the human condition without narration or agenda. When strings swell up for the first time in the film’s final moments, it’s a catharsis that’s well-earned. —Ryan Little

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