Extraordinary Measures

Directed by Tom Vaughan

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Courtney B. Vance

Screenplay adapted by Robert Nelson Jacobs 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

Brendan Fraser has two modes: goofball for throwaway movies like George of the Jungle, Airheads, Dudley Do-Right and The Mummy series, and then serious actor in movies like Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American, Crash, School Ties and…Extraordinary Measures.  The first one is good for a lark, for children, or, I presume, for getting high.  The second variation of Fraser is for those who like the effects that good movies can have on the soul.  Only one of these types of films make money, of course.  So to make this film, Fraser was teamed up with Ford, who also executive produced.  Sadly, the film still tanked.  Out of theaters in 4 weeks after bringing in $12 million, half of that in the opening weekend.

An easy theory for this is the topic.  Curing disease on film, while riveting, has never been any sort of draw.  Add to that the plethora of medical dramas each night of the week, and who was to go out on any weekend evening for a night in front of a medical researcher.  Still, for all for all that goes against this movie succeeding, I am happy for this story – inspired by true events – having been made.

Fraser gives a powerful performance as a dedicated family man John Crowley with not one, but two kids suffering from Pompe’s disease.  With his wife (played by Russell) working with a nurse to care for these kids (and their other, disease free child), John seeks out a medical scientist Robert Stonehill (a composite of several true life researchers played by Harrison Ford) to help him find a cure for the condition.  This leads in a potentially confusing and boring quest for research funds throughout the rest of the film.

I say potentially because as played by Fraser, Crowley is so driven and complex, he is easy to follow.  As people keep telling him his path is reaching its end, he keeps discovering tangents that keep the hope alive.  This is explained thoroughly without disrupting the pace of the film.  His performance is a memorable one, even by Fraser’s standards.

Working with Russell, Fraser shows that these children actually are a source of hope and inspiration and that their lives are good despite the challenges.  This is the stuff, to be sure, of TV movies.  However, their performances so closely mirror that of the real people they portray, it rises above.

Adding to this, Harrison Ford.  He is pretty close to Harrison Ford, movie star, and call me a sucker, it always works for me.  No other actor alive could end a dramatic speech to people depending on his work with the phrase, “I can’t cure your kids, but I think I can save their lives.  Outstanding cobbler,” and make it sound natural as anything.  Ford is one of the best actors of the last 35 years.  The fact that he has never won an academy award will no doubt be remedied one day, but I relish almost every one of his movies, in much the same way I can I enjoy Samuel L. Jackson.

The direction is clean, effective and very low on the cliché count.  This is tough to do in this kind of film, but that the kids don’t come across as variations of Tiny Tim is definitely a plus, I am apt to think not an accident.

Another performance of note here is that of Jared Harris, who plays one of Crowley’s apparent nemeses in the quest for the enzyme test for his kids.

Jared Harris isn't creepy for a change. What a revelation.

Harris’ turn is surprisingly tender and very welcome for the actor so chillingly effective as the primary villain in the first year of Fringe.  I would love to see Harris parley this opportunity to break the mold set for him as resident evil genius.  One need look no further than the career of Terry O’Quinn to see how great it is when someone breaks out of a caricature.

If you have a Sunday night tradition of watching good family movies, you should add this one to the list.

**** out of  *****

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