John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is the father of two children afflicted with Pompe disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that renders victims dependent on wheelchairs and respirators to live out their shortened lives. Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) is a rogue researcher who specializes in an enzyme replacement therapy for Pompe. He's the last hope for a desperate Crowley and his dying children.
In one year, they must find funding for Stonehill's research, create a bio-tech start-up, get a viable enzyme therapy to clinical trials, and find a way to work Crowley's kids, Megan and Patrick, to the top of the list for the enzyme treatment. Is it a long shot? Yes. Can they do it? I'll give you one guess.
Crowley and Stonehill offer much-needed levity to the tragic situation as two comically incompatible egos bent on the same goal. As the film goes on, however, we see how different the two can be, and only the momentous task at hand keeps them on the same path. Crowley represents the business side of pharmacology, but in an interesting twist, he's also the only character with an urgent personal stake in the success of the research. Stonehill finds himself in a quandary I'll wager almost every academic researcher has faced: a wealth of ideas and a dearth of funding.
"I don't have the money to make this theory into usable medicine," says Stonehill, a researcher at the University of Nebraska. "The football coach makes more than me."
Give Extraordinary Measures credit for acknowledging the financial trade-offs made in favor of athletics at academic institutions, but the film also had the opportunity to tackle some hard questions about medical research and licensing processes in the United States. There was certainly room for more exploration of families coming up against the health-care system. Did Extraordinary Measures take on these challenges? I'll give you one guess.