Soberly and responsibly, a small but significant film called Inhale, starring the underrated, charismatic and terrifically accomplished Dermot Mulroney, has arrived without fanfare or big-budget ad campaigns to capture some well-deserved attention. It tackles the growing horror of organ tourism–the search for illegal alternatives to long waiting lists for organ transplants that never happen. According to this eye-opening dossier on the subject, 15,000 sick people each year fall victim to organ trafficking by organized crime. These surgeries are often performed under the eye of local and national governments, health ministries and professional medical associations, without the donor’s consent. You will go away with your heart full and your eyes wide open.
The dynamic Mr. Mulroney and Diane Kruger play a New Mexico district attorney and his wife whose daughter is diagnosed with a progressive lung disease that only a double lung transplant can cure. Swallowing his principles like castor oil, this tough, by-the-books prosecutor finds himself bending the law himself when faced with the life-or-death decision of buying an organ on the black market. Aided by a kind pediatrician (Rosanna Arquette) and a powerful politician (Sam Shepard), he heads for the Texas border in El Paso and crosses over into Juarez with only one name in his wallet, one that turns out to be phony. With the demand for transplants 10 times the supply, and lists growing longer daily, desperate people losing hope are investigating new ways to buy organs illegally. Mexico is apparently a source for this kind of dangerous criminal harvesting, and this is a man with enough money to give it a try. Cursed with unalterable morality, he nevertheless ventures deeper into the Mexican underworld, risking his own life. Helped along by an unscrupulous street urchin, his search leads him through a warren of male prostitutes, child murders, gang beatings and even a ward full of children awaiting death sentences. One by one, the clues unravel with the tempo of a hair-frying thriller.
In Mexico, the death rate from violence and drug wars is three times that in the U.S. So the removal of organs from dead bodies goes unchecked. You’ll find yourself asking a lot of ethical questions, and you might be surprised at the answers you find. Shattered by his own conscience and growing lack of integrity, a noble character begins to lose his grip on reality. Should he break the law and win his family’s everlasting love and gratitude? Or reject the corruption and lose his own child? I won’t tell you how it turns out, but the dilemma builds a special brand of suspense that is wrenching. The subject matter was handled with more originality and Grand Guignol in Stephen Frears’ memorable film Dirty Pretty Things. Baltasar Kormakur, an acclaimed festival-circuit favorite from Iceland, does not have enough grip to furnish Inhale with the same kind of arc, so the characters seem like papier-mâche symbols instead of fully fleshed-out human beings, but Mr. Mulroney is an exception, giving an honest, committed and deeply moving performance of tortured sincerity. He’s better-looking and more virile and versatile than either, so why isn’t he a superstar on the same plane as Brad Pitt and Matt Damon?
Running time 83 minutes
Written by Walter A. Doty and John Claflin
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Starring Dermot Mulroney, Diane Kruger, Rosanna Arquette, Sam Shepherd