REVIEW: Extraordinary Measures [2010]

“I guess we dodged that blessing”

It is interesting to see a company such as CBS throw their hat in the ring of motion pictures, especially with the financial climate of the industry so muggy. I guess all that money from “CSI” and its spin-offs have landed enough cash in the coffers to lay the groundwork for what is promising to be a few movies a year with high-end talent. Add to that the marketing dream of having your parent company as a television station ripe for advertising during lucrative football games and the formula looks better and better. The caveat to it all becomes the ease at which the whole endeavor could fall into made-for-tv fare, churning out a 10 o’clock movie with some cursing and minor A-list stars in hopes to earn some of the increasing, (recession brings the theatre-goers in droves for a little semi-cheap escapism), box office take. And this was the first thing I thought of when hearing of Extraordinary Measures—its content looked conventional, sappy, and way too feel-good for my tastes. But maybe CBS Films knows what they are doing, starting slow with an ‘inspired by true events’ yarn, looking to get edgier in the future, (letting J.Lo carry your sophomore effort, The Back-up Plan, is definitely edgy, as in will anyone see it?).

Definitely a step in the right direction for Tom Vaughn—who’s last effort was the somewhat abysmal What Happens in Vegas—this story about one father’s fight to find a drug to save his children’s lives is by-the-book, yet handled with competent hands. No one will be hailing Vaughn as a visionary doing things with the camera that haven’t been done before, but they also won’t say he dropped the ball and left the editing bay with little usable footage. It is a very conservative start that probably allowed for the people at CBS to get their feet wet in branching out to the big screen, making all the right moves, looking to infuse the emotions and heart that go into a true life story of survival. Sure there are the usual contrivances of pitting a large corporation of heartless bean-counters as the villain, (although they also are the source of investment and research capital), the sick kids overcoming adversity and showing the kind of fight residing within, and the volatile genius who has more potential of derailing his own work than seeing his brilliant theories realized, but what did you expect? If anyone goes into this movie expecting a fresh take on the medical miracle genre, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself if you’re disappointed.

Centering on Pompe Disease—a form of Muscular Dystropy—Extraordinary Measures finds John Crowley at the edge of a huge abyss that has been laid before him. With a life expectancy of nine years, the film begins by showing John rushing to get to his daughter’s 8th birthday party. Along with her brother of six that is worse off physically than she, the family knows that they don’t have much time left together. Going beyond his due diligence, Crowley scours the internet to find that one man has been doing promising work in the field of curing the disease. Dr. Robert Stonehill is a brilliant man who has discovered a way to enhance the enzyme that patients need to break down glycogen so it enters the cells. On paper he has solved the problem, but formulas and theories are worthless without the money to manufacture and test the science. As a result, Crowley quits his job and becomes head cheerleader and CEO for Stonehill’s idea, raising the capital, making the connections, and moving forward to a tangible answer—hopefully in enough time to help his own family.

You don’t need to know much else than this. The fact it has been made a film at all should lend itself to create the correct prediction on how it will all end, so the true test of success lies in the journey to reach that result. It falls on the filmmakers to make their audience care about this family, pull for the children afflicted by this deadly illness, and be interested in all the behind the scenes turmoil and success. And this is where the problems of the movie show; the story itself is too conflicted on what it’s striving to be. There is a lot about the Crowleys and their quest for life, but there is just as much scientific research residing in a world of bottom-line bureaucracy. I truly don’t think you can succeed without picking one of these avenues to be the primary driving force. With all the back and forth, an audience can never stick with one focus long enough to fully invest, making the completed work more high school educational tool than cinematic experience. Whereas My Sister’s Keeper became a real film—tugging at the heartstrings and portraying one family’s strength in the face of adversity, leaving all the science and medicine for backdrop only—Vaughn and company holds their work back by trying to educate while they entertain, falling into those made-for-tv conventions.

Jared Harris’s Dr. Webber, (why couldn’t he use his natural British accent?), hits the nail on the head by constantly reminding Crowley how he’s unable to be objective. John wants to save his children with this drug so much that he can’t look at the big picture of how many others it will cure. The added pressure Crowley puts on himself actually exacerbates the situation, risking his own self-imposed sabotage. Objectivity is needed for this drug to eventually reach his children, and it’s also needed for the film’s viewers to know what it is they are watching. The children are gone too often and for too long, making us forget what’s at stake as the task of creating medicine overtakes them in importance. Our connection to the human element at work is cut off instead of nurtured.

It is not by fault of the cast, which does some good work—Brendan Fraser’s Crowley is what a man in his situation should be: loving, caring, and driven to get the job done at all costs, both vulnerable and steadfast; Harrison Ford is great as the extremely hot-tempered introverted scientist, hard-edged while able to see his own errors while my only issue with him is that I don’t think his Stonehill quite earned the out-of-character joyful moment at the end; and Keri Russell is the epitome of a mother helpless as her children whither away. No, the failure of Extraordinary Measures not resonating lies in its very structure as it tries to do it all. The potential is there with many moments succeeding on their own, but by trying to show both the familial and scientific sides to the story, the film ends up being just a sterile telling of fact, never allowing us to really enter the world and experience what’s happening as anything other than a spectator.

Extraordinary Measures 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Brendan Fraser as “John Crowley” and Harrison Ford as “Dr. Stonehill” in CBS Films’ EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Keri Russell as “Aileen Crowley” and Diego Velazquez as “Patrick Crowley” in CBS Films’ EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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