Extraordinary Measures is a sensitively made film about a heartbreaking subject. Starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford, it is based on the true story of businessman John Crowley (Fraser) and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell), who undertake a seemingly impossible task in the hope of saving the lives of their two youngest children, Megan and Patrick. The children were born with a rare and incurable genetic condition known as Pompe’s disease, which is threatening to end their lives within the year. Their only hope is the research of biochemist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford), who is on the verge of a breakthrough discovery in the treatment of Pompe’s. John and Aileen begin the arduous task of securing funding for Stonehill’s research, eventually setting up a bio-tech company, all the while struggling to deal with the deteriorating health of their children.
Although the synopsis makes this film sound desperately depressing, we are immediately assured that this will not be the case. The film begins with the vibrant, fun-filled celebrations of Megan’s 8th birthday, and her illness takes a backseat while we are introduced to her. The Crowley family are instantaneously charismatic, and you get the impression that their weariness and strength has been translated well onto the screen.
One successful aspect of the film is that the personalities of the children do not get lost in the story. They are outgoing and very optimistic, despite how staggeringly close they are to their life-expectancy of nine years. Six-year-old Patrick in particular, who has very few lines, commands great empathy. It does not take a lot of effort to emotionally engage with the family; this is a real achievement on the part of director Tom Vaughan, who infuses the film with the same gentle sensitivity that he harnessed in Starter for Ten.
One criticism of the film is that it is not hugely exciting. There is really very little that happens outside of a science lab, a business meeting or the Crowley family home. The science is never too intense, nor the business-speak too overwhelming, but the film is simply not action-packed or varied in its locations or themes. This is down to the nature of the story, which is essentially two men setting up a company. Dr. Stonehill (Ford) is the only main character who is not based on a real person (he is an amalgam of the many scientists and businessmen who assisted the Crowleys), and this perhaps explains why he is not quite as complete a character as the others. He is a wonderfully grumpy loner who has rather good taste in old rock music and no interests outside of biochemistry and fishing, yet of his background and psychology we know virtually nothing.
Though a little bland, if you can overcome the lack of fast-paced action and immerse yourself in a shamelessly emotional story, you will find much to enjoy. It is certainly good to see Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser on screen together, despite the distinct lack of swashbuckling archaeological adventures. There are countless glimmers of wit, and, having spent the film’s duration wondering whether you will ultimately be uplifted, the wait turns out to be worthwhile; perhaps the cherry on the cake is spotting the cameo at the end: ‘Businessman 3 – John Crowley’.