Saturday, January 23, 2010

Movie Review: Extraordinary Measures

We all like feel good movies. We love watching the under dog overcome struggles making it through, not only enduring, but prevailing to reach that goal. We loved Revenge of the Nerds as the nerds rocked out to their synthesized 80's pop music to overcome the high and mighty Alpha Betas and Pi Delta Pis. OK, I'm dating myself.

But we love it even more when the story isn't made up but "inspired by actual events" such as the case of The Blind Side, Invictus or the new Harrison Ford and Brandon Fraser movie Extraordinary Measures, based on the book The Cure.

Fraser plays husband John Crowley with Keri Russell playing his wife Aileen. They have three children, two of which have a form of muscular dystrophy called Pompe. The older of the two sick siblings, Megan is eight and her younger brother Patrick is six. John is climbing the corporate ladder at his company. After a close brush with the death of Megan he decides to go to Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford) who is approaching treatment for Pompe differently that anyone else in a theoretical manner. The problem is it's still theoretical and in order to save his children from the fatal disease, it has to be practical. This trip puts John's job and insurance at risk.

Stonehill is hampered by being in a college that controls the purse strings for his funding. He complains that the salary of the football coach is more than his entire department. Rings true in real life as the football coach at the University of Hawaii is the highest paid public employee in the State of Hawaii. Stonehill suggests to John that they start their own company with Stonehill focusing on the science and John focusing on the funding since he has an MBA from Harvard. John leaves his company to entice venture capitalist to gain funding for the new company. The two fuss and feud as they have different goals and go through different machinations in order to get from theory to reality.

This role was a stretch for Fraser. Remember he was Encino Man and George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right as well as Dr Rick O'Connell. Fraser is usually cast as a caricature of a character caught in imaginary worlds with lots of action and special effects surrounding him. This time there was none of that. He had to play in the real world. He can't play comic relief to a CGI figure or background. He has to play a father desperate to do what ever it takes in order to save his children. Could he pull it off, for the most part yes without being over the top.

On the other hand you have Ford. I found myself at times thinking of him playing his dad from the Indiana Jones series. Eccentric and consumed. Just as Henry Jones was focused on the Holy Grail, Robert Stonehill was focused on his theories. Here's the white board and the phone is ringing and ringing....ignore the phone while you work. The door buzzer is blaring and you keep working. Give the guy who's trying to get you funding smarty pants answers when you can't pull in the bucks yourself due to interpersonal issues. Cantankerous older scientist who likes to blare his music on a Bose Wave sound system, that was Stonehill.

I'm sure for the movie besides the role of Stonehill being synthesized for scripting purposes there were a number of other situations that were fictionalized to show the struggle to get a drug from concept to clinical trials. The battles to be waged between investment and profitability outcomes, what are acceptable losses, how large a market, what sort of trials. I don't know if I'll read the book to find out what actually happened, maybe I should. How do I know this? At the end of the credits there was a paragraph stating that although the Crowleys were real, that a lot of artistic license was used (my paraphrase). With health care being debated in America, I hope that people who see this movie keep this in mind and don't think this is a literal case to use as many of the situations were idealized and romanticized.

While not as gripping as The Blind Side, it was an enjoyable movie worthy of the matinee price that I paid to see it. The emotions displayed didn't totally suck me in, but there were moments both on the sad and funny that did engage me, but it wasn't ratcheted up enough where you really were pulled in completely to the struggle. This 105 minute movie is rated PG for thematic elements, a ~barely~ suggestive moment, and language. As a side note, Harrison Ford while one of the executive producers for this film allowed Fraser to have his name first in the credits. Look closely at the picture to see this.