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"Extraordinary Measures" is the inaugural motion picture for CBS Films, which is an apt studio home, considering the feature plays much like a broad television production, with a soft trickling of sentimentality and a structure that pauses for commercial breaks. It's a frivolous disease-of-the-week picture, but sufficiently intriguing, even taking on a startling perspective in the war of do-gooder science vs. vampiric pharmaceutical industry profit.
John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is a harried businessman and father of two children stricken with Pompe disease, an affliction of muscle deterioration with an age expectancy of nine years. With critical birthdays looming on the horizon, Crowley decides to take a chance and pursue research scientist Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a renegade thinker in the field of Pompe with radical ideas on enzyme therapy. Promising money he doesn't necessarily have, Crowley talks Stonehill into a business venture, pushing the irascible scientist into research while he worries about the cash flow. With the clock ticking, Stonehill presents challenging theories, piquing the interest of pharmaceutical giants, who demand results practically overnight. With Stonehill feeling the heat during this demoralizing process, Crowley fights to maintain the face of Pompe, to keep the cure from becoming just another compromised drug on the market.
Based on a true story (from the book, "The Cure," by Geeta Anand), "Extraordinary Measures" seems almost retro in its gentle approach. It's a medical drama with a human slant, engorged by director Tom Vaughn (he of the reprehensible "What Happens in Vegas") to a friendly melodramatic tempo, making for a comforting afternoon diversion. There are no extreme acts of violence, swearing is more decorative than punishing, and Pompe is depicted with a firm hand of respect, offering center stage to a medical situation that's never received this sort of spotlight. "Extraordinary Measures" is safe and ready for consumption, and while that's traditionally a recipe for mediocrity, the film avoids a severe case of the blahs due to its strong casting and the introduction of some cold-blooded business world reality.
To get a Pompe drug to market, Stonehill and Crowley aren't just combating lab trial and error, they're also forced to play a cruel game of financial dependence. The screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs balances the reality of fundraising with the heated interior battles between the Pompe men; the feature ventures into the chilling arena of drug promotion, as Crowley is desperate to keep the financial engine moving forward. Crowley and Stonehill face harsh compromise and boardroom humiliations, and they find their partnership strained and theories put prematurely to the test. It's a quest for the almighty dollar that the script doesn't shy away from, calmly introducing the unsavory elements of drug development into the flow, providing peculiar dramatic tension from an unexpected source.
It's not all unique storytelling challenges for "Extraordinary Measures." The film doesn't keep away from a few saccharine tangents with Crowley and his family (wife Aileen is played by Keri Russell), and Ford's Stonehill is an oddly one-note character of perpetual growl. It's a convincing performance of frustration, and Vaughn sells the stuffing out of the character's nonconformist attitude, but Stonehill remains an emotional question mark throughout the film. It's fantastic to see Ford in a role that bends his established screen persona, but there's little nuance to Stonehill that encourages a closer inspection from the audience.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation retains the film's kind-hearted glow, with the soft lighting scheme treated carefully, rarely interfering with the images or the senior-clothing-catalog colors. The image is never exactly crisp, but it's expressive, allowing for superior facial detail and hearty outdoorsy environments. Black levels are solid, keeping out of the way of evening sequences, and skintones run a touch too pink, but still maintain their purpose.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is generally contained, with a full-bodied frontal push that reinforces the television movie impression of the picture. Dialogue is clean and marvelously pronounced, with nothing missed outside of Ford's occasional garbled outbursts. Scoring is reserved but useful, sneaking into the surrounds along with a few sharp atmospheric moments. Dimensionality is not a major concern here, leaving a simple, but persuasive mix to emphasize the personal drama.
English and English SDH subtitles are included.
"Deleted Scenes" (9:29) introduce new domestic longing and battles for John, some lab and boardroom panic, the introduction of a stern nurse who cleans up the Crowley home, and a pair of terrible scenes where the parents freak out about the future of their kids.
"Meet John Crowley" (4:34) spotlights the real man behind the movie, who recalls the history of his family and the nature of Pompe. It's a troubling story of certain medical doom cut with a stunning twist of hope. It's strong, emotional stuff to watch. The brief featurette closes with a set visit, as the family greets the crew of the film.
"Extraordinary Measures: The Power to Overcome" (10:43) is a basic promotional featurette experience, with cast and crew interviews extolling the miracles of the Crowley story and the efforts to bring that reality to the screen. No surprises here and the copious amount of film clips choke the pace of the mini-doc.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Extraordinary Measures" is far from perfect, but I was pulled into the journey of the Pompe drug, from heartland hopes to the leap-of-faith test trials. It's not a film staged in an Earth-shattering manner, merely coasting along on a gentle hum of featherweight medical and domestic urgency; it's more pleasingly reassuring and solidly constructed than dynamic, reaching its emotional goals comfortably.