Film » Screens

Medicine Man

Extraordinary Measures dramatizes a father's desperate search for a cure

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If you are casting the role of a genius scientist, Harrison Ford probably isn't the first name that comes to mind. Unless, that is, you are Harrison Ford, executive producer of Extraordinary Measures. Ford optioned the book The Cure, a gripping account by Wall Street Journal reporter Geeta Anand about businessman John Crowley's efforts to find a medicine to save the lives of his children, who suffer from a rare neuromuscular condition called Pompe disease.

As it happens, Ford's distant demeanor is rather well suited to the prickly Dr. Robert Stonehill, a research scientist who has conducted extensive studies on Pompe. Stonehill works all night in his laboratory, shrinks from most human contact and blares the Grateful Dead and the James Gang while working.

Stonehill's research captures the attention of Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a drug-company executive who, with his wife Aileen (Keri Russell), is raising three children, two of whom — Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez) — have Pompe, a genetic disorder whose sufferers usually die in early childhood. Time is running out for the Crowley children, and in desperation, their father drives from Oregon to Nebraska to meet Stonehill, whose proposed enzyme treatment offers their only hope. Crowley quits his job and forms a stormy partnership with the cantankerous scientist to start a biotech company and begin drug trials.

Although it sounds like another Lorenzo's Oil, this is in large part a business story, dramatically illustrating how corporate interests intersect with human suffering in the quest to manufacture "orphan drugs." Fraser's sensitive performance communicates the wrenching conflicts of a man who must balance his emotional stake in his children with profitability concerns and cold concepts like "acceptable mortality rate."

Not surprisingly, the movie modifies some elements of the Crowleys' story. The children, particularly adorable Megan, look healthier than most Pompe patients, though their struggles are still vivid. One day, they're darting about in their motorized wheelchairs, the next they're hospitalized with life-threatening complications. If at times the movie feels like a feature-length advertisement for Myozyme — which in fact was developed at Duke University, not by Crowley's firm — the story of his valiant battle to save his kids' lives and those of other sick children is inspiring.

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