A lonely neurologist (Robin Williams) takes a job at a Bronx psychiatric hospital to care for catatonic patients who suffered from an encephalitis outbreak during the Great Depression. After discovering signs of life still apparent in his patients and developing a bond with a man entranced since childhood (Robert De Niro), he begins administering test dosages of L-DOPA and once thought hopeless cases begin to reawaken. Penny Marshall’s Awakenings, based on the true life work of Dr. Oliver Sacks, is fascinating in its early stages by eventually spins its wheels and is tarnished by a feeling cuing soundtrack and an unfounded romantic subplot involving Penelope Ann Miller. Williams and De Niro, nonetheless, are extraordinary in some of the finest work of their careers and Julie Kavner and John Heard have great turns in support.
*** out of ****