Monday, January 25, 2010

Movie Review: Extraordinary Measures

Extraordinary Measures **
Directed By:
Tom Vaughn.
Written By: Robert Nelson Jacobs based on the book by Geeta Anand.
Starring: Brendan Fraser (John Crowley), Harrison Ford (Dr. Robert Stonehill), Keri Russell (Aileen Crowley), Meredith Droeger (Megan Crowley), Diego Velazquez (Patrick Crowley), Sam Hall (John Crowley, Jr.), Jared Harris (Dr. Kent Webber), Patrick Bauchau (CEO Erich Loring), Courtney B. Vance (Marcus Temple).

I have no idea how far from reality Extraordinary Measures actually strays. Judging from my limited knowledge of the medical establishment, I would say pretty damn far. But when making a movie like this, filmmakers should never let facts get in the way of a good story. The problem with Extraordinary Measures is that it doesn’t really have a good story. And then it tries much too hard to pull on your heartstrings and make you cry. I left the theater dry eyed, and I didn’t hear too many other people crying either for that matter.

Brendan Fraser stars as John Crowley, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Oregon and is on the fast track to big corporate success. The problem is that he and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) have three kids – two of which have a disease known as Pompe A, a form of muscular dystrophy, which will likely kill them before then turn 10. There is no cure, and very little treatment for this disease out there in the marketplace, and Crowley should know, since he spends all of his free time trying to find some hope for his family. The closest he comes is a doctor in Nebraska named Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who is doing exciting things in his research. Unfortunately, he works for the University of Nebraska, who spends more money on their football coach then on all of Stonehill’s research. But Stonehill and Crowley come to an agreement. They will both leave their jobs, and start their own firm, where Stonehill can do his research with more money from Venture Capitalists to support it. Stonehill will concentrate on finding a cure from Crowley’s kids – Crowley will concentrate on getting him the money he needs in order to do so.

The problem with Extraordinary Measures is that neither medical research, nor endless meetings trying to raise money is very cinematic. The director, Tom Vaughn, can think of nothing but the most bland visual style for the movie – it really does look like some made for TV movie that the Women’s Network would show. And although the movie tries really hard to make us feel sympathy for Crowley and his family, it never quite works. Yes, we feel sorry for his kids, but there is only so much heartstring pulling one movie can bear – and this one goes too far. We never really get to know Crowley, his wife or his kids, let alone Stonehill, and the assortment of other doctors and researchers who keep showing up for a scene or two before being jettisoned when things change.

Extraordinary Measures is not really a terrible movie, it’s just one that there really is little point in seeing. Fraser certainly tries hard to make the movie work, and his natural likability goes a long way in selling the movie. But Ford continues his run of performances where he simply seems not to give a shit. When was the last time Ford really seemed to care about a role? Looking back, I might have to say The Fugitive in 1993. Since then, he has tried to coast by on his gruff charm, and little else. His performance is disappointing, in an equally disappointing movie.
Note: After I finished this review, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I found out that Stonehill is a composite character of many of the people that Crowley worked with over the years. I also learned that the cost of the medication to treat Pompe A is $300,000/year for life, and that many insurance companies in the USA refuse to pay for this treatment, meaning that most kids with Pompe A still die. This did not affect my rating for the film, but you would think that perhaps they might have mentioned that.

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