Directed by Tom Vaughan
Just as the health care bill dies a slow and painful death in Congress, Extraordinary Measures proposes this cure: big pharmaceutical business as usual. The formula is never stated explicitly, and it's couched in a good deal of (though surprisingly, thankfully, not too much) family melodrama, but the message to be taken from this adaptation of Wall Street Journal writer Geeta Anand's non-fiction book The Cure seems to be that with the right balance of disciplined research, spirited desperation and big medical industry money, all set to classic rock, anything is possible—or, as the tagline would have it: "Don't hope for a miracle. Make one."
Gleaming medical facilities shine like beacons of hope for Aileen and John Crowley (Keri Russell and Brendan Frasier), whose upper-middle-class Portland home is a little hospital in its own right, receiving a stream of nurses and assistants to take care of their two youngest kids, both of whom suffer from the degenerative muscular disease Pompe. With the as yet uncured disease, Megan and Patrick (Meredith Droger and Digo Velazquez) are unlikely to live past the age of nine, and as the film opens on Megan's eighth birthday, we have our first of many deadlines.
John, a Harvard MBA working his way up as an exec for pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, quits to fund the work of eccentric but "brilliant" researcher Dr. Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who eventually promises that with half a million dollars he could develop a Pompe cure within a year. With their volatile balance of grinning businessman circumlocution and lab-rat irritability, the two take their idea to some venture capitalists who foot the bill on the condition that Stonehill reach clinical testing before the end of the year. Their little operation is in turn bought out by a much bigger pharmaceutical company, where the oldies-blaring doctor develops his Pompe cure alongside three increasingly cranky teams of competing researchers. All of which must be finished, naturally, before the end of the year.
What's somewhat unexpected and ultimately much more compelling than this race to save adorable little kids—which, admittedly, is also fairly engaging—is how Anand's rendition of the real-life Crowleys' story paints a damning yet finally recuperative picture of America's medical industry. Much of this has to do with how Crowley, a suit and dad to dying kids among scientists, changes the way that the research is being conducted. He challenges the company's rigorous objectivity, bringing Pompe researchers face to face with Pompe patients for the first time, and questioning the logic behind having four research teams competing to create the same treatment without sharing their data. Crowley brokers the perfect mixture of empathy and detachment to produce the best, quickest results for the maximum profit.
Fraser, as always, is either chummy and smiling dumbly, or sad and frowning really hard; Ford fares only a little better as a maladjusted old man. But that's all their parts require to keep the plot moving through the boardrooms, luxury labs and corporate campuses of America's medical-industrial complex, which is the real star here. Meanwhile the melodrama mostly stays at home with the children and Keri Russell, who may be the best actors here, but are very much on the periphery of the action. What's most important is that the existing system of providing treatment when it's most profitable to do so—after a few attitude adjustments suggested by a Harvard business school grad—is still the best. All of which makes Extraordinary Measures immeasurably enlightening, but also a little sick.
Opens January 22