Extraordinary Measures has two factors working in its favor.
It offers a cynical view of corporate America sure to resonate with the masses, and an "I'm going to succeed against all odds" story line that usually plays well with movie-goers.
Combine these two potent populist elements in a two-hour drama and ... well, it's no surprise the audience at a recent screening applauded as the credits started to roll.
Inspired by a true story, chronicled in a series of Wall Street Journal articles and a follow-up book, Extraordinary Measures teeters on the edge of made-for-TV schmaltz, but never quite tumbles over the edge. John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is a successful executive who mortgages his family's health and financial security to create and oversee a biotech research company to develop medicine to treat Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder that weakens muscles and disrupts the respiratory system and that is afflicting his children.
Crowley pins his hopes on a crusty older scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who has spent years researching a treatment which, at that point, remains only theory, nothing more than a series of mathematical formulas scribbled on pads and chalkboards.
To advance to the next phase of the medicinal development and test his theory, Stonehill needs lab equipment, supplies, and research scientists - none of which he and Crowley can afford.
That's where Extraordinary Measures proves to be most interesting, the collision of medical research and business in a paradigm of science-profit interests, as Crowley and Stonehill meet with scientists and venture capitalists to acquire funding for their research. Extraordinary Measures is more than belabored scenes of dying children imploring their father to help them get better - though there are a few of those moments too. Rather, it's a fascinating examination of the corporate and scientific pitfalls that must be negotiated to bring life-saving medicine to the marketplace.
Credit must go to director Tom Vaughan, who more or less stays out of the way of the story - a wise decision, considering his single film credit came as director of the under-performing comedy What Happens in Vegas.
And it's Crowley and his willingness to blur ethical lines to save his children who is the most interesting character in the film. His motives are pure, but his actions are called into question by those around him, including his employers. You may not buy into Fraser as the desperate father at first, but give the actor time to settle into the role and you'll be surprised at the depth he provides the part.
For the character of Stonehill, the film, which was scripted by Robert Nelson Jacobs (an Oscar nominee for Chocolat), created an amalgam of many real-life researchers involved in the medicine's development. Instead of including so many names and faces - perhaps too confusing for audiences? - those distinct voices were condensed into one simplistic archetype: the grumpy [insert profession here] who does the right thing. To his credit, Ford relishes the part; he even taps into some of the same eccentricities from a character he played nearly 30 years ago, Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, a much darker and riskier role than Stonehill.
Keri Russell as Crowley's wife, Aileen, fares the worst of this trio of big-name stars. Her on-screen job mostly consists of offering words of encouragement to her husband, no matter how grim the circumstances. If Russell is banking on this part to launch a comeback, she needs to read scripts a little more closely.
What she and the cast have produced is a thoroughly fascinating story, with some mostly not not-so-interesting people telling it.
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