NEW YORK -- A new movie called "The God Committee" takes its title from the term used to describe the panel of doctors in a hospital that determines which patients get approved for an organ transplant and which do not.
The decision is supposed to be made on purely medical grounds, but it will come as no surprise that rich people seek an advantage for themselves and for their loved ones.
The film, directed by Austin Stark, is based on a play but also inspired by one shocking incident the filmmaker heard about.
"I'd heard a story from a friend of mine a few years back about a wealthy man in the Northeast who has bribed a hospital for an organ," Stark said.
A clip shows a panel in a Manhattan hospital debating who should receive a heart transplant, with a priest who is also a lawyer played by Colman Domingo advises the doctors.
"If you make choices based on anything that can't be quantified, you're playing God," he says.
Kelsey Grammer plays the head surgeon.
"I'll be the first to step aside when God walks in here and votes," he responds.
Grammer came to fame making us laugh on "Cheers" and "Fraser," but his latest role demonstrates his gifts as a dramatic actor -- all because the TV star was willing to abandon his fun persona to tell a serious story.
"Yeah, it's not a lot of laughs," he admitted to Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest on their "Live" show earlier this month.
But Stark said Grammer welcomed the chance to play the arrogant Dr. Boxer.
"He said, 'You want to know why? Because I've never done it before,'" Stark recalled him saying. "'I've been in this industry for decades, and I've never done this character. I've never played him.'"
A group of very talented performers gathered around him, including Julia Stiles as a younger doctor and Janeane Garofalo as a cynical hospital administrator, gave the filmmaker a big boost. He said the level of talent brings out the best in everyone.
"I think so," he said. "Like where I really saw it were in the scenes with Kelsey and Janeane Garofalo. They were challenging each other."
Set in the world of medicine, "The God Committee" makes a larger point about wealth in America.
"Not just on the health care system," Stark said. "You know money influences various systems that we have."
Stark was born and raised in New York City and welcomed the chance to shoot his movie there.
Luckily, he was able to finish shooting well before the pandemic hit and premiered the picture at the Tribeca Film Festival in June -- just as restrictions were being lifted.
His riveting film is now available to stream at home.