With Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell. Rated PG for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment. 105 minutes
Like “Lorenzo’s Oil,” EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES is a drama inspired by the real-life story of parents who refused to accept the verdict of the medical establishment when it came to their children facing a horrible illness. The “extraordinary measures” are taken by pharmaceutical executive John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), who of whose children have Pompe disease, a rare disorder that will mean a death sentence by eight or nine years of age.
Crowley discovers that Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) is working on cutting-edge research that promises treatment, if not a cure. The problem is he can’t get much funding. As he notes, the football coach at his school makes more than his research budget. Thus an odd partnership is born between the iconoclastic scientist and the executive whose motivation is entirely personal.
It works because they’re both complicated characters and they don’t really mesh. Stonehill is an older man who blares classic rock in his lab and doesn’t enjoy being a team player. Crowley is keeping his eyes on the prize of a workable treatment and will do whatever it takes to get it. When a corporate boss tells him that as a non-scientist Crowley’s presence is resented, he pulls off a publicity event to get all the scientists to have the same emotional attachment to the Pompe kids that he does.
While the medical mystery and corporate infighting is interesting, the family scenes are sometimes off. Keri Russell seems to be able to run a beautiful home and take care of three kids, two of them with Pompe, without breaking into a sweat. She never really emerges as a full character.
Where the film takes off is in the complex pas de deux conducted by Crowley and Stonehill, whose goals overlap but are not identical. Ford is an odd choice for the scientist, daring to make him occasionally unlikeable. This maybe his most eccentric characterization since “The Mosquito Coast.” Fraser is a wonderful and underrated actor who can veer from goofy comedy to action/adventure to serious drama. He is utterly convincing as a man who will do anything to save his children.
Of course we shouldn’t confuse these characters with real life. Many of the facts have been changed and Stonehill is a composite of several real-life scientists. This is more of a parable than a documentary, and the subject is as much the way men work as it is about the search for a Pompe treatment.
For moviegoers who are wondering if they are going in for a good cry or a feel-good movie, “Extraordinary Measures” is very much in the latter category. You may get a little teary anyway, but this isn’t one of those Oscar contenders where you want to slit your wrists afterwards. Instead it’s about the compromises and bumps that face even those who are most motivated and pure of heart, and how sometimes you don’t have to lose your soul to get what you want.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.