We finally picked up the DVD of "Extraordinary Measures" this weekend and watched it tonight. CAUTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
I am an unabashed Harrison Ford fan, and he did a very good portraying a crotchety and opinionated scientist who forms an uneasy partnership with the father of two children debilitated by the rare condition Pompe's Disease. Both men are seeking a cure for Pompe's for their own reasons; of course the father, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is the more driven of the two. He will do whatever it takes to keep his children alive.
Dr. Robert Stonehill is twice-divorced and spends all his time at his university laboratory. He wants things done his way and on his schedule. He doesn't care about the profitability of a drug or how to get it approved by the FDA; he just does the research. He alienates potential investors, then complains loudly when Crowley offers them lucrative terms to get them on board. When the pair's newly formed company is having a hard time financially, he courts a larger biotech company to buy them out. This time, Stonehill talks the talk and walks the walk that the executives want to see. The start-up is absorbed into the larger company, Stonehill and Crowley relocate to the corporate labs, and the two of them butt heads with the hierarchy to get what they want. In Stonehill's case, he just wants to do things his way. For Crowley, it ultimately means leaving his job in order to get his two children -- for whom time is growing short -- into the clinical trials.
It's really hard to follow the timeline of the movie. Everything seems to be happening too fast. As it turns out, the real story evolved over several years. The movie begins on Megan Crowley's 8th birthday, and I believe it is her 9th birthday that we see near the end of the film. That's very significant because research that John Crowley is shown reviewing near the beginning suggests that children with the
disease are not expected to live more than nine years.
I did not fully get a sense of urgency during the film. Some of that could be because I knew the outcome of the story; I had seen video of Megan and Patrick Crowley taken when they visited the set of the movie probably two years ago. I hesitate to accept all the "blame" for the lack of urgency, though, because when I saw "Valkyrie" (the Tom Cruise-starrer that told the story of a plot to kill Hitler), I knew that the group failed and the men involved were executed), and yet I still felt great suspense at each step of the way.
The filmmakers did not focus very much on the home life. In fact, two deleted scenes on the DVD showed the tension between John Crowley and his wife Aileen. Scenes like that would have gone a long way to demonstrate the real-life toll that Crowley's drive for a cure was taking on his family. Megan Crowley was presented as a typical
precocious adolescent, always positive and a real trooper. If she throws a tantrum once in a while (another excised scene available on the DVD), it's okay, because she may not live very much longer. When mom gave in following the tantrum, I would have liked to have seen something in her eyes and demeanor that she's giving in because how can she deny her child the small joy of sparkly sunglasses (even though she'd just learned that her husband took out a second mortgage on their home to fund research).
We see very little of Patrick Crowley, their younger son with Pompe. He seems much weaker than Megan and contributes little to the story. There's not even any discussion about his being weaker, of losing muscle control sooner than Megan, just a few knowing glances between the parents. The third Crowley child is portrayed
as being completely understanding, even selling his toys to raise money for a research fundraiser.
Near the beginning of the film, Crowley makes the decision to leave the pharmaceutical company he works for to partner with Stonefield in a new venture. He discusses with his wife the difficulty if he loses his insurance (health care costs, including home nurse care, are $40,000 a month according to the script). Yet, he makes the move with no further mention of any financial strain for his family. Even the aforementioned deleted scene suggests that the money from the second mortgage went to the company, not to personal expenses. When the film begins, the Crowleys are living in a rather nice looking two-story house in Oregon. Later (after the start-up gets bought out), they are shown living in what looks like a mansion on a cliff. These are not ordinary people concerned about paying hefty medical bills. Is this a Hollywoodization of the story, designed to present the Crowley family in the best possible light? Or did the screenwriters leave out that they are an independently wealthy family who can afford, unlike the average person, to buy a custom treatment for their children's rare disease? (I don't mean to downplay the difference this treatment has made in the lives of other Pompe families.)
In doing a little further research about Stonehill, I found out that he doesn't really exist. The real scientist is Dr. William Canfield. He started his company without Crowley and brought him aboard later. Other scientists who also made contributions to the same area of research weren't mentioned at all and they (or at least their supporters) are a little peeved. Crowley, meanwhile, is still working in the biotech industry and also has a political career (which could explain some of the whitewashing of the story). If you're interested, you can read more here:
I found it interesting that Dee Wallace (the mom in "E.T." and "Cujo") played a character who had one or two lines and Alan Ruck (the friend whose dad's car they used in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off) also had a tiny little role. Work's work, I guess, but I felt bad for them.
As we watched the film, my husband kept saying, "Oh this must be where the terrorists attack and try to take over the lab and Stonefield has to stop them. Oh, guess not." He was only partly joking; we have seen too many examples of where a role was changed to be more action-oriented after Harrison Ford was cast. In this one, the most action Harrison sees is running down the sidewalk in a race with the wheelchair-bound Megan.
It's a good enough little film, and for the few people who see it, it will raise awareness of this debilitating condition. It's easy to see, though, why "Extraordinary Measures" did not garner much critical acclaim or popular success.
The only extras on the DVD are the movie trailer (and previews for a few other films), several deleted scenes, and two featurettes - one on the making of the film and the other on John Crowley (who also appears in the film in a small role as a corporate executive).