Lorenzo's Oil [1992]

With this powerful 1992 drama, director-producer George Miller (The Road Warrior) proved that a movie about a disease doesn't have to be a typical disease-of-the-week movie. Based on the real-life case of the Odones family, the story concerns 5-year-old Lorenzo, suffering mightily from an apparently incurable and degenerative brain illness called A.L.D. His parents, an economist (Nick Nolte) and a linguist (Susan Sarandon), refuse to accept the received wisdom that there is no hope, and set about learning biochemistry to pursue a cure on their own. The film becomes an intriguing scientific mystery mixed with a story of pain, grief, and the strain on the two adults. In other words, Lorenzo's Oil is similar to all those medical-mayhem TV flicks but with some key differences: a pair of great actors in Sarandon and Nolte--who actually do some of the finest work of their careers here--and Miller's bold and typically inventive direction. Miller, a doctor himself, refuses to shirk from the chaos and horrors of a child's agony, and he makes us hear the death chains rattling behind images that would be purely sentimental in another director's hands. --Tom Keogh

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