Truth is often more compelling than fiction, and filmgoers love a heartfelt human interest story, but true stories don't automatically make great movies. Amelia Earhart is a fascinating historical figure, but it didn't show in her recent biopic. Conversely, the story of the Tuohy family's adoption of budding football star Michael Oher doesn't seem very flashy, but The Blind Side deeply resonated with audiences.
So it doesn't matter whether the subject is interesting or not: Dramatized human interest stories still need to connect through strong writing and acting.
Extraordinary Measures would seem to have everything going for it: A touching story (based on the best-selling book The Cure) inspired by true events about a father's great lengths to save his kids' lives. A timely subject with health care on the minds of millions. Two high-profile actors in Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford. Sadly, it all adds up to an extraordinary bore.
Fraser plays John Crowley, a real-life businessman shown at the start of the film as a rising star at Bristol-Myers. The opening credits teeter on cliché, showing Crowley as a father seemingly too busy at work to make his daughter's birthday party. He arrives in the nick of time, revealing the harried family—with John's wife Aileen (Keri Russell) and their three children John Jr., Megan, and Patrick—as the picture of love and happiness.
But all is not well. Time is running out for 8-year-old Megan and 6-year-old Patrick, both confined to wheelchairs. They have Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder caused by an enzyme deficiency that leads to muscle weakness and typically death by 9 years of age. The family seems to be out of options, but a near-death experience for Megan at the hospital prompts John to reach out to Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford), a scientist at the University of Nebraska whose experimental research may hold a cure for Pompe children.
If only it were that simple. As anyone with an understanding of "orphan drugs" and the pharmaceutical industry knows, miracle cures don't simply develop overnight. There needs to be financial backing, exhaustive scientific studies, industrial support, and FDA approval. And as cold as it sounds, pharmaceutical companies know it isn't profitable to develop a drug benefitting only a small percentage of the population. Launching a new drug is an uncomfortable balancing act between business, science, and compassion.
Nevertheless, Crowley gives it his all: "I can't just sit there while my kids are dying." He quits his successful job and moves his family to go into business with Stonehill, building a chance for a cure. Stonehill has the scientific breakthrough, Crowley has the business smarts to market it, but it's still a question of whether they can have a cure ready in time to save the Crowley children.
Details have been dramatized for Extraordinary Measures. The events have been condensed from a five-year span into a single year, simplifying the timeline (measured by Megan's impending 9th birthday) while attempting to infuse the story with suspense. Additionally, there is no Dr. Stonehill; the character is a composite of the scientists that Crowley worked with at a biotech start-up company. The purpose was to simplify things while adding suspense, having Crowley butt heads against one scientist instead of several, but it seems disingenuous in the postscript of the film to assert that "Stonehill's" research continues.