‘Extraordinary Measures’ avoids formula for drama 

It would be easy to dismiss “Extraordinary Measures” as a glorified Movie of the Week, a predictable medical drama in which terminally ill children and their desperate parents are saved by an 11th-hour cure. It’s the kind of story cynics line up to tear down, and as the opening credits rolled, my heart sank. I braced myself for the tearjerking to follow.

It never came.

That’s not to say the story of real-life biotech executive John Crowley, who left a lucrative job in a last-ditch effort to save two of his kids from the paralyzing effects of Pompe disease, isn’t moving.

But give screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs his due: “Extraordinary Measures” is neither manipulative nor gratuitously maudlin, even as it moves efficiently toward an obvious conclusion.

Crowley is played by Brendan Fraser, best known for his work as cavemen and culturally clueless ingénues, and as the “Mummy” movies’ buffoonish daredevil. Here, he takes on a weightier role and responds with a performance that is thoughtful and effectively restrained.

Yet the movie’s strongest assets are Harrison Ford, as Crowley’s brilliant but antagonistic last hope of a medical researcher, and Jared Harris, of TV’s “Mad Men,” as a bloodless academic scientist unmoved by Crowley’s pleas for help.

Both characters serve an essential purpose — grounding “Extraordinary Measures” in something close to reality — but it is Ford’s crotchety researcher who steers the picture clear of sentimentality.

It might have been tempting to portray Ford’s character as warm and cuddly, the kind of doctor who wears his good intentions on his sleeve, but Jacobs wisely resists.

Ford plays the fictional Robert Stonehill as a man tirelessly dedicated to his work but smart enough to understand his
limitations. He’s not selling miracles — and that’s good, because we’re not buying them.

“Extraordinary Measures” is based, however loosely, on a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Geeta Anand. Crowley and his children are real, as is Pompe — a potentially fatal metabolic disorder. Their stories have been embellished, but they resonate just the same.

It’s easy to see where the story is headed, even for those unfamiliar with Crowley’s well-publicized odyssey, but it gets there with surprising grace.

“Extraordinary Measures” is not a great movie, but it has a brain as well as a heart, and that’s as close to a miracle as we’re likely to get.

 

MOVIE REVIEW
Extraordinary Measures

Three stars

Starring Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Meredith Droeger, Jared Harris
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs
Directed by Tom Vaughan
Rated PG
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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