Film Reviews

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES

By • Jan 19th, 2010 •

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Harrison Ford executive produces and stars, as “angry Al Pacino”, in a Hallmark TV movie.

Inspired by real events, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) are very happily married with 3 children. Two of their children have Pompe disease. The disorder is estimated to occur in about 1 in 40,000-300,000 births.

John’s executive position pays for the $40,000 a month in 24-hour care for Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), who live on respirators and in wheelchairs. Megan is angelic, feisty and confident; Patrick is very sick.

Infantile, or early onset Pompe, is noticed shortly after birth. Symptoms include severe lack of muscle tone, weakness, and an enlarged liver and heart. Development appears normal for the first weeks or months but slowly declines as the disease progresses. Most children die from respiratory or cardiac complications before 2 years of age.

Pompe disease, the Crowleys are told, is so rare that no company had yet developed a medicine to combat it. There was no cure and no treatment.

In the film, Aileen explains that she was pregnant with Patrick when Megan was diagnosed with Pompe. When we meet the Crowley family, Megan and Patrick have remarkably beaten the odds.

However, as presented in EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, caring for two children with Pompe and an active son, John Jr. (Sam Hill), is not a strain on the family. It’s easy.

Aileen must be sedated – at least that is the way she is played by Russell. Aileen is also the most uncompassionate mother with two very sick, perhaps dying, children you will ever see. Not overworked, Aileen is cheery. But this film is not about Aileen, it is John’s story.

John does all the research and worrying about the children. One name keeps coming up in the research papers: Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford).

Of course, Dr. Stonehill is an iconoclast and weirdo scientist. He works alone and other research scientists dislike him and his theoretical work on Pompe disease. He refuses to play the corporate game to get funding or grants for his highly experimental research.

To me, Dr. Stonehill is silly. All we know about him is that he is crabby and must play very loud rock music in order to work. No one has the courage to tell him to wear $9.99 headphones. The screenwriter, Robert Nelson Jacobs, could have given Ford a fascinating character to play, since Dr. Stonehill is a made-up person (Dr. Stonehill is a composite of various real-life scientists).

In EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, Megan is nine and Patrick is seven. (In reality, Megan was fifteen-months-old and Patrick five-months-old when doctors told John and Aileen that they had only months to live).

Crowley is unsuccessful in reaching Dr. Stonehill, so he gets on a plane and just turns up at Dr. Stonehill’s research lair. Dr. Stonehill has never met a Pompe patient, he just likes the problem of how to treat it.

Crowley promises Dr. Stonehill he will raise the $500,000 in research money that Dr. Stonehill needs. Crowley raises a little over $91,000 and then, with Dr. Stonehill’s encouragement, gives up his high-paying job and health insurance to start a bio-tech company with Stonehill. The family moves into a palatial home to be close to Dr. Stonehill.

Crowley decides the best course of action is to have Dr. Stonehill do preliminary work and then get a big pharmaceutical company to buy their company. Dr. Stonehill might be a genius, but is hated by the pharmaceutical company’s scientists, though they do like his preliminary research results. Crowley has his hands full dealing with eccentric, friendless Dr. Stonehill.

The big pharmaceutical company must be convinced that Dr. Stonehill has a viable and profitable treatment. This is where Crowley’s executive training comes in.

Fraser does the best he can, but expressing grief, strain and suffering are not his forte. Undoing a tie is not acting. I have already mentioned Russell. Her role is shallow window-dressing. A necessary evil – the kids need a mother. I know Russell can do better, so blame must go to the screenwriter and director, Tom Vaughan.

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES was inspired by the Geeta Anand’s 2006 book, The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million – And Bucked the Medical Establishment – In a Quest to Save His Children.

Harrison Ford hasn’t been directed in years. That is one of the perks of being a movie star. No one tells a movie star what to do or how to play a scene. It would be an insult. So Ford took the minor character and decided to do an Al Pacino impression. He snarls. He yells. It’s embarrassing.

Why didn’t Ford give the order that his character had to be interesting?

It might be unfair to say that this very heartwarming story has been turned into a lousy film. Yes, John Crowley is a role model. He deserves not a movie star in his movie, but a compelling, involving story.

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