Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Extraordinary Measures (2010)

Director: Tom Vaughan                                    Writers: Robert Nelson Jacobs
Film Score: Andrea Guerra                              Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell and Jared Harris

It’s difficult to tell at times if this film is worth watching simply because of the story, or whether it was actually a good movie. Extraordinary Measures is the inspiring true story of John Crowley, adapted from the book The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million—and Bucked the Medical Establishment—in a Quest to Save His Children by Geeta Anand. He and his wife Aileen had two children born with Pompe, a devastating genetic disease in which muscle tissue is unable to burn sugar. Life expectancy for most children born with the disorder is less than ten years. Brendan Fraser plays Crowley and that might be the weakest point of the film. While his early films are not worth watching at all, he did make a pivot toward more adult roles in 2004 with a nice part in the ensemble film Crash, which won the Academy Award that year. This role draws on the same limited dramatic range he possesses and was the Achilles’ heel for a lot of reviewers. It was almost that for me, but not quite, as the story was important enough to keep watching. Harrison Ford’s role is also a bit one-note, though that’s not necessarily his fault. He plays a research physician in Nebraska who has come up with a new way of delivering enzymes to the muscles that has a greater chance of helping the muscles burn sugar that those previously tried. The only problem is that all of his research is simply theoretical, and nowhere near ready to be used as a medical therapy.

The film begins in Portland, with corporate executive Brendan Fraser late for his daughter’s birthday party. Meredith Droeger has Pompe and is confined to a wheelchair, but she has lots of personality. Her younger brother, Diego Velazquez, is a more challenging case, and yet it is she who winds up in the hospital first. After she makes it out the doctor says another respiratory episode might be her last. Desperate to find a treatment, Frazer begins devouring research on the disease and keeps coming across the name of one particular doctor, Harrison Ford. After numerous calls and emails get no response, he simply decides to leave work one day and fly to Nebraska to meet with Ford. But the cranky, eccentric researcher has no time for him. That is, until Fraser pretends to be an investor who wants to give him half a million dollars to start his own lab. Back in Portland, Fraser now has to decide if he is going to leave his corporate job--and the medical insurance that comes with it--or along with wife Keri Russell create a Pompe foundation overnight and try to get the money together before Ford comes out to meet with them. Of course, they choose the later. But Ford has done his research and when he comes out to meet with them, he calls their bluff. Nevertheless, he’s tired of university politics and he decides to meet with venture capitalist David Clennon, who gives them 10 million and a year to make something happen.

Fraser makes a valiant attempt at wringing some emotion from himself, but it’s ultimately unconvincing and the film never really recovers from that. Fortunately, he’s surrounded by a pretty impressive cast. Keri Russell as his wife picks up a lot of the slack in the domestic scenes, but Fraser is absolutely buried by Harrison Ford in their scenes together, even though the writing leaves the veteran actor with little else to do but act irritated and yell at people. It’s great to see David Clennon in anything after some memorable supporting work in the seventies and eighties. Later in the film Clennon decides to pull his support and Fraser makes a successful sales pitch to a large pharmaceutical company in Seattle run by Patrick Bauchau, to buy he and Ford’s new startup. His right hand man is Jared Harris and he and Fraser clash almost immediately. Other notable appearances come from Courtney Vance who plays against type as a timid father with two Pompe kids, and a terrific cameo by Dee Wallace as a bartender who thought “Doc” was just Ford’s nickname. Local Portland actors Gavin Bristol and Jeff Hammond can be seen as Harris’s assistant and a lab tech, respectively, and the real John Crowley appears as an extra as one of Clennon’s partners.

Director Tom Vaughan had worked primarily in television, with only one feature to his name before this film, and it shows. But does some interesting work here. In fact, the most memorable aspect of the film is not the characters at all, it’s the sets. The film was shot primarily in Oregon, including downtown Portland, St. Paul, Tualatin, Manzanita, Beaverton, and Vancouver, Washington. One of the most interesting locations was for the pharmaceutical company in Seattle. For that, Vaughan was allowed to shoot on the Nike campus in Beaverton, the only time it has been seen on film like this. The shots of laboratories, the houses, the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and aerial shots of the Oregon coastline, as well as establishing shots in Nebraska and Seattle, are all beautifully done and provide a major aesthetic component to a film that is heavy on dialogue and light on drama. While the lives of the children hang in the balance--an important plot point--there’s a sense that either the drug therapy will come in time or it won’t, and the real interest lies in how Fraser tries to cut that time down rather than whether or not the children will die. Extraordinary Measures is an amazing story that was turned into a rather lackluster film. Still, there are things to enjoy, the visuals above all, and the improbable nature of the eventual outcome.

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