DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Im Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.
In 2006, Geeta Anand published a book called The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million and Bucked the Medical Establishment in a Quest to Save His Children. The book's now a film called Extraordinary Measures, starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: Theres a basic tension in the true-ish documentary Extraordinary Measures that lifts it above the formula disease-of-the-week picture. Brendan Fraser plays John Crowley, an executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb with a daughter and son who have the rare Pompe disease, a cousin to muscular dystrophy that fatally weakens muscles including the biggie, the heart. Although Crowley works for Big Pharma, theres no discussion in the movie of his particular company doing research for a cure.
Pompe is an orphan disease, which means a giant pharmaceutical or biotech entity has little financial incentive to pursue a treatment. Instead, the distraught Crowley tracks down Robert Stonehill, played by Harrison Ford, a cranky scientist in Nebraska with big ideas but few resources. With the clock ticking on his childrens lives, Crowley forms a company with Stonehill and goes in search of venture capital. He has to convince corporate bottom-liners that despite his personal stake, he can be objective. He can coolly calculate profit margins and patient acceptable-loss percentages.
When a bigger company buys his own and theres finally a drug to test, he learns his dying daughter and son are too old for the first wave of trials. The real Crowley, as portrayed in Wall Street Journal reporter Geeta Anands 2006 book The Cure, might even agree with Michael Moore on the doggone unfairness of it all. But he rarely questions the economic system that both makes him and his partners rich and would let his kids die. The screenplay, by Robert Nelson Jacobs, doesnt address that dichotomy directly either, but it hits it much harder.
Jacobs and director Tom Vaughan build nearly every scene in the movie around it. Fords character, Stonehill, is fictional a composite, allegedly and his confrontations with Crowley, whom he calls Jersey, come down to pure science versus the marketplace. Its a nasty moment when Crowley informs Stonehill hes selling the company.
(Soundbite of movie, Extraordinary Measures) Mr. HARRISON FORD (Actor): (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) What are you doing?
Mr. BRENDAN FRASER (Actor): (As John Crowley) Giving you a preview of whats going to happen if we are not in clinical trials in four months. Our investors will turn off the lights.
(Soundbite of door closing)
Mr. FORD: (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) Science takes time, Jersey. Dont they understand?
Mr. FRASER: (As John Crowley) Yeah, they do. They can read the Wall Street Journal, they see that Zymagen(ph) is testing three different Pompe drugs.
Mr. FORD: (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) Theyre testing three because they dont know what the hell theyre doing. Im testing one because its the right one.
Mr. FRASER: (As John Crowley) I know. I believe you, Bob. I want you to go toe to toe with Zymagen scientists. Thats the reason Ive entered into conversations with them to buy our company.
Mr. FORD: (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) You're telling me? You're not asking me?
Mr. FRASER: (As John Crowley) Oh, come on, Bob. I am just being fiscally responsible.
Mr. FORD: (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) Nobody is going to tell me how to run my lab.
Mr. FRASER: (As John Crowley) If I can engineer a deal, and that is a really big if, youre going to have to forgive me for all the money I'm going to make you.
Mr. FORD: (As Dr. Robert Stonehill) I dont care about money. Im a scientist. I care about more important things than that.
Mr. FRASER: (As John Crowley) Dont you tell me about more important things to care about.
EDELSTEIN: That scene is very Hollywood, and Extraordinary Measures comes on as a conventionally inspiring story of courage and determination. But as in the recent Will Smith vehicle The Pursuit of Happyness, the filmmakers attempt to strike a balance between good, old-fashioned, Horatio Alger capitalist hustle and the primal dread of not being able to protect ones children. Anyway, I cried -a lot. Im a sucker for kids on ventilators wasting away. When Crowley tells his little, blonde daughter - in the ICU with a tube in her arm - that hell find a special medicine to save her, she makes him promise it will be pink.
Dark pink, not light pink, which is babyish. That killed me. And while Extraordinary Measures has a soppy, piano-and-strings score, the fear under every scene gives the film an edge. Fraser doesnt suggest the drive of the real Crowley, who looks like a cross between Tom Cruise and Steve Carell, but hes such a haggard lump of vulnerability that my heart went out to him. Harrison Fords company bought the rights to Geeta Anands book, and the role of Stonehill has been made to fit his mature temperament.
Which is to say, he barks a lot and never cracks a smile. Something bilious in Ford seems to have taken over and worn him down to sinews and sourness. Hes not especially convincing as an eccentric, obsessive scientist who blasts rock and roll while scrawling equations for one thing, he looks like he works out too much. But he is the star who made Extraordinary Measures possible. If the film does well and Pompe disease gets more attention and more funding, well thats the showbiz side of capitalism that strives for a balance between box-office and beneficence.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. Coming up, we remember singer Kate McGarrigle, who died Monday. This is FRESH AIR.
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