The term “based on a true story” is receiving its due lately with The Blind Side garnering a recent Golden Globe acting win plus Oscar speculation. Advertising for Extraordinary Measures, also “based on a true story,” emphasizes that both these films are uplifting and inspiring. The latter movie concerns a family with two children who have Pompe -- a degenerative and fatal form of muscular dystrophy -- and the remarkable struggle their father undergoes to find a cure.
John (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) Crowley face each day with guarded joy. Two of their three children have Pompe. John Crowley, Jr. (Sam M. Hall) is fine, but Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez) are approaching the age of the disease’s life expectancy -- 8 or 9 years old. John works for a large corporation and is about to be promoted. His salary and insurance coverage forms the lifeblood sustaining their family, but John is haunted with worries about modern medicine having no solutions to cure or extend his ill children’s lives.
While watching Extraordinary Measures, it’s easy to ask yourself the question, “What would you do to keep your children alive?” Your answer, of course, is “Anything!” That’s exactly what John does when he learns about research scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) and his work on a cure for Pompe. John is so overcome with helplessness he impulsively walks out of an important meeting and -- without even telling his wife -- hops on a plane for Nebraska, hoping to find Dr. Stonehill.
Stonehill, a curmudgeon who shows a trifle of symphony to John’s plight, tells him to go home and spend what time is left with his kids. That’s like an arrow through John’s heart, so he returns home deflated. But when his adorable Megan becomes sicker, he returns to Stonehill promising to quit his dependable job and start a Pompe foundation. He promises to fundraise for the 10 million dollars Stonehill needs to bring his potentially life-saving Pompe drug to the market.
Based on The Cure by Geeta Anand, Extraordinary Measures is basically true, but screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat) had the task of creating a two-hour drama from a story that spanned years and involved many research scientists who worked on the Pompe cure. They were all composited into the character of Dr. Stonehill.
Ford, also an executive producer on the film, had read about the Crowley family in an article and then in the book, and he thought it would make a compelling film. “I thought Geeta’s book had something to say about personal courage, initiative, parents’ love, and the power to overcome extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” Ford said. “If we could wrestle this into the shape of a movie, we would be bringing a story to the screen which would enrich people’s lives.”
We’ve seen many films about the extraordinary actions families take to save their ill children. Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), a movie dealing with the search for a cure for ALD -- an extremely rare degenerative disorder -- is one example. While Extraordinary Measures does create a heartfelt and emotional scenario of what the Crowley’s went through to save their children, it boasts something we don’t often see -- the long and difficult journey of a drug from inception through years of brilliant research and then to FDA approval.
Fraser delivers his finest performance here. There isn’t a moment or action in which he appears to be acting. From the hollow, empty look in his eyes when it appears his Megan will be denied the drug even if it comes to fruition, to every maddening battle he has with the ornery Stonehill and the industry itself, Fraser captures this character perfectly.
“Sometimes in life the answer is ‘no’ and sometimes it’s the right answer, the answer you have to live with,” Fraser said about his character. “But John Crowley actually said, ‘No is not acceptable. I’m going to find a way to turn no into a maybe, and then maybe into a yes.’ If he was going to go down, he was going to go down swinging. Those are the earmarks of a true hero.”
Harrison has proven his proficiency at portraying “anybody,” yet he’s so talented we never doubt for a moment that he’s the complicated Stonehill, who’s often such a tyrant he becomes his own worst enemy. The three children in the film are all impressive, especially Droeger who was chosen from a field of 800 children’s auditions. It must be difficult to play a child bound to a bed or a wheel chair. Yet Droeger excels at making Megan exceptionally funny, optimistic and clever.
Going beyond the “disease movie of the week” theme, Extraordinary Measures not only hits the topic of the day plaguing our country -- the health care debate -- it’s also an inspiring drama.
(Released by CBS Films and rated “PG” for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.