Real-Life Heroics on Display in Extraordinary Measures
- Friday, January 22, 2010
DVD Release Date: May 18, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: January 22, 2010
Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment)
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Tom Vaughan
Actors: Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell, Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez, Jared Harris, Courtney B. Vance, Patrick Bauchau
In Extraordinary Measures, a medical drama about a race to develop a life-saving drug, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) conducts lab research while blasting Classic Rock. It's Led Zeppelin and The Band, turned up to top volume—music that's several decades old but still projects energy. A crabby perfectionist, Stonehill doesn't care that the blaring music upsets his fellow doctors. It's what keeps him moving toward his professional goals.
By the end of the film, the Classic Rock has been replaced by Eric Clapton's "Change the World," one of the artist's big Adult Contemporary hits of the 1990s that helped redefine the guitar king as an Adult Contemporary soft-rocker.
The trajectory of Extraordinary Measures is similar: It has moments of deeply felt passion before settling into a predictable, comfortable groove. It's never exciting; those looking for a move that rocks should look elsewhere. But like the Clapton song that ends the film, Extraordinary Measures is comforting and even a little bit inspirational—a soft-rock movie for people who have mellowed as they've grown older.
The plot isn't anything we haven't seen before and the outcome is never in doubt—the film is inspired by a true story—but Extraordinary Measures is helped immensely by an affecting lead performance from Brendan Fraser as John Crowley, and by the inclusion of faith elements (however briefly mentioned) that put a little air under the story's wings. Extraordinary Measures doesn't soar by any means, but it avoids being flat and uninspired. Its uplifting elements carry the day.
Crowley is on his way up the corporate ladder, looking at a 40% salary increase that will help him cover the $40,000 in monthly health-care expenses for his two sick children, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez). They've been diagnosed with Pompe disease, a form of muscular dystrophy that results in death before age 10.
Crowley refuses to stand by and watch them die slowly, so he reads up on Pompe and contacts Stonehill, a crabby scientist whose published research on the disease holds great promise but hasn't resulted in real-world results. Deciding to risk everything for his kids, Crowley quits his job to start a biotech firm—of which nine out of 10 fail, a colleague warns him—and to promote Stonehill's proposed remedy, which is still in development.
Crowley wins Stonehill's confidence by delivering the research funds, money that he cobbles together from relatives and other parents of children with Pompe. However, it's not until Crowley and Stonehill learn to respect each other's strengths that they manage to attract a deep-pocketed company that can provide the extensive resources to help realize the drug's potential.
With Crowley's business savvy and Stonehill's scientific expertise, the duo gains the initial financial backing required to research the drug but still faces obstacle after obstacle along the road to getting the drug tested and approved for broader use. Those obstacles usually are placed by a medical executive who prizes rational objectivity far above Crowley's understandable but emotional pleas: He wants a quicker process to finalize the drug and get it to his children before they die. The executive also rubs Stonehill the wrong way, forcing him to compete against rival scientists to create the most promising medicine to fight the disease.
The film highlights the quiet faith and prayer life of one parent (Courtney B. Vance) of a child with Pompe, and has Crowley confess to his wife (Keri Russell) that he prayed and tried to submit to God's will when his daughter was struggling to survive. These God-focused moments are too often missing in life-and-death dramas from Hollywood, although many people turn to God when faced with such struggles in real life. Why should it be surprising to see such expression here? That the filmmakers bothered to include it might be seen as a cynical ploy to the faith crowd, but it doesn't come across that way. Instead, it's subtle and effective—and life-affirming.
Credit goes to Fraser for taking the role of aggrieved father and showing different shadings of what could have been a one-note character. He's persistent, sometimes devious, but always motivated by his end goal: saving his kids' lives. Less effective is Ford, who growls and barks his way through a phoned-in performance. Their on-screen interaction never really goes anywhere unexpected, and when their hostility toward each other eventually cools, it's convenient but not convincing. By that time, however, the story will have its emotional hooks into viewers so that they probably won't be bothered by such things.
Extraordinary Measures won't take you to places you've never been, but sometimes it's enough to see a feel-good movie about real-life heroics.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; numerous obscenities; a crude reference to male reproductive organs; "take a c-ap."
- Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Bar scene includes drinking; Stonehill drinks beer; wine consumed with dinner.
- Sex/Nudity: Kissing; a husband wife are caught having sex on a couch, but nothing explicit is portrayed; the wife jumps up in her night clothes.
- Violence/Crime: Security busts Crowley as he tries to steal medicine, but Stonehill steps in to save him.
- Marriage: Stonehill has two ex-wives.
- Religion: A man says he prayed when he found out his child had been diagnosed with a fatal disease; another man says he prayed that his daughter would be taken by God if it was her time; donated funds to a foundation are said to have been raised by relatives, friends and a church group.
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