Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tom Vaughn

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez, Sam Hall, Jared Harris, Patrick Bauchau

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 1/22/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 21, 2010

Perhaps an accurate representation of the current state of health care in the United Sates, Extraordinary Measures is all about the healing powers of a good business plan. It's not exactly inspiring stuff.

Inspired by the true story (and from what I've read up on the real story, "inspired" is the right word) of John Crowley's maneuvers to speed up the research and development of a treatment for Pompe Disease, from which two of his children suffer, Extraordinary Measures isn't without compassion, but the movie's priorities seem awry.

What good the movie does comes unintentionally. Here is a pretty incisive indictment of health care that only achieves such by traversing its business logic. Kids are sick and dying with a potential treatment on the horizon, and Crowley (Brendan Fraser) finds a solution in becoming part of the establishment. Yes, he cringes at a biotech company's board talking about "acceptable losses" and "profitability" in developing a drug, but when it comes right down to it, he knows you can only buck the system just enough to ensure that you'll get the results you're looking for.

Yes, he wants to put a face on the disease for researchers who have never met a child with Pompe, a type of muscular dystrophy in which glycogen build-up causes extensive muscular weakness, but that could cause, as Dr. Kent Webber (Jared Harris), a biotech VP with whom Crowley inevitably clashes heads, puts it, a lack of objectivity, maybe even causing scientists to cut corners. Maybe it's just difficult to realize someone might create a treatment or cure, but most of these kids' families won't be able to afford it (as is the case with some insurers denying payment for treatment for Pompe).

But enough with the political (and moral, because, it's easily forgotten that the health care debate is as much, if not more, a moral one) rambling, and let's go back to what the movie is instead of what it inadvertently turns out to be.

This is meant to be stand-up-and-cheer stuff, where we are moved by people's dedication to overcoming adversity. That's where the business focus becomes a problem. While the Crowley children of the movie, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), deteriorate at a pace manipulative enough to maintain tension (The maximum life expectancy of a patient with Pompe is nine, and the movie opens with Megan eighth birthday party), John goes from fundraiser to upstart biotech CEO to established biotech executive, and we get all the mundane business speak and planning that goes along with it.

The issue with this approach is that we never get to know these kids, John, or his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) apart from their roles as victims needing, cheerleaders of, or coordinators for a treatment. Megan goes between a spirited young girl and a sickly patient in the hospital as the story needs her to, and we never know her aside from those two roles.

Aileen has even less of a role to play, standing by her children at the meeting John calls for his researchers with a strong face, and Patrick is even less than thatójust portrayed as a sick kid.

This is Crowley's story, and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (working from a book by Geeta Anand) doesn't know how to handle Crowley's scientific aide Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a researcher who has been developed a potential breakthrough in Pompe treatment but doesn't have the funding to make it a reality. Stonehill bluntly states early on that he's a researcher not a doctor, and Jacobs follows through with that promise by making his character a series of examples of his poor bedside manner.

The inevitable clashes between Crowley and Stonehill, between good business sense and proper scientific practice, don't go anywhere, because ultimately, they are both after the same thing. Even giving them shouting matches in the first place feels false for how counterproductive those fights would be if they were more bark than bite. A basic verbal brawl between them amounts to Stonehill messing up, Crowley telling him how he messed up, Stonehill staying stubborn, Crowley doing what he thinks is best, and Stonehill going along with it. While the first three steps are easily dismissible for the same result, Jacobs' obvious need for conflict is transparent.

The end result is that we don't grow to care for these characters' plight beyond its face value. The central value of health care as a business venture is troubling. Money is indeed no mere object; it is as important a factor as the science behind the research.

In denying us a real look at the toll of the illness, the effect on the family, and the passion outside of corporate strategy, Extraordinary Measures leaves us wondering about those other children Crowley brings in to sure his researchers the face of Pompe. After his company decides that infant testing is the best means of seeing results (with a major exception granted the Crowleys, of course), would those kids, without the benefit of an in with the system, then be considered "acceptable" losses?

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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