Rated PG/121 min.
I vividly remember going to my Aunt Cindy’s house after a day at Makawao Elementary School and watching Baby Jessica getting pulled out of a well. I was 10, in the fourth grade and all too aware of how scary the world was (this being 1987, the stock market had just crashed and America was having a nuclear standoff with the Russians). I’d heard days before how this baby girl had been crawling in her back yard and fell down a deep well and was likely going to die from starvation, if she hadn’t already broken her neck. News crews nationwide watched as a rescue effort was made and, sure enough, they got Jessica out of there. Seeing this happen live on TV tremendously affected me, showing me the good that humankind was capable of, no matter how daunting the obstacle.
The true but little-known story presented in Extraordinary Measures should similarly inspire countless men and women in a positive way. It’s so remarkable, you might have a hard time believing it. Brendan Fraser stars as John Crowley, a time-crunched businessman who has two children with Pompe disease, a disorder that has left them wheelchair-bound and will supposedly claim their lives when they reach age 8. John and his wife (Keri Russell) turn to an eccentric, isolated but undeniably brilliant scientist, Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) for help and, in a race-the-clock effort to find a cure, the Crowleys create a company dedicated to beating Pompe disease.
Lorenzo’s Oil had a similar story and, while this film isn’t as heavy-handed, it also lacks that film’s elegance and polish; the trailers suggest a Lifetime TV movie with an A-list cast, which is a fairly accurate assessment of the look of the film. Aside from some stylish lighting, Tom Vaughn directs this story in a straightforward, no-frills way. However, the power of the performances and the immediacy of the characters’ dilemma elevate the movie.
Surprisingly, the scenes that lay out the specifics of Pompe disease draw you in and are understandable instead of alienating. As the characters learn how to pursue the seemingly illusive cure from scene-to-scene, we share their sense of discovery. Despite his buff frame and imposing presence, Fraser movingly conveys a vulnerable, desperate man willing to do anything to save his kids. Ford, who also produced, is excellent, capturing Stonehill’s internal brilliance and unpredictable, explosive temper in a performance that is complex and offbeat. This is Ford excelling in a character role rather than an uninspired action turkey. More parts like this could finally land Ford a Best Actor Oscar.
Instead of a melodramatic downer, this compelling story is humorous, suspenseful and moving. You’ll learn something about Pompe disease (which I knew nothing about walking in), but even more you’ll be amazed and entertained by one of the great American underdog stories. – MauiTime, Barry Wurst II