One of medical expert/author/filmmaker Michael Crichton's stronger directorial efforts, this taut '70s conspiracy thriller features a button-pushing premise, lots of disturbing imagery, and an appealing heroine played by the sexy, cerebral Genevieve Bujold. The dogmatism of Coma's feminist themes comes directly from Robin Cook's source novel; the fact that the first victim is a sexy woman seeking an illicit abortion is about as subtle as the film's gender politics get. In one of her biggest hits ever, though, Bujold manages to overcome such stridency by simply playing what she plays best: a woman of steely self-determination, strong intellect, and unselfconscious sensuality. Meanwhile, Rip Torn, Richard Widmark, and Michael Douglas provide an early Hollywood example of pervasive male villainy. Douglas' ambitious, arrogant doctor helped build the template for his enduringly sleazy screen persona. One intriguing lapse in the feisty-heroine-vs.-old-boy-network plot comes in the form of Elizabeth Ashley's crisp, sinister medical administrator; the veteran stage actress turns her small role into the very picture of institutional dread. Although Crichton's script proves more capable of suggesting its conspiracy than explaining it, the writer/director does build an effectively escalating sense of dread. A better visual stylist -- for example, David Cronenberg, who must have had Coma in mind when he cast Bujold in Dead Ringers -- could have turned this material into something even more insidiously disturbing. Nevertheless, Coma is an effective thriller whose vision of medicine corrupted by profit is as chilling and relevant as it is heavy-handed.