Picks and Pans Review: Lorenzo's Oil

updated 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Peter Ustinov, Zack O'Melley Greenburg

There is a strong intelligence and fierce integrity behind this harrowing, true story of a dedicated couple (Nolte and Sarandon) who defied the odds and the medical establishment to find a cure for their gravely ill son, Lorenzo (PEOPLE, Oct. 24, 1991). When Nolte, an Italian economist with the World Bank, and Sarandon, a linguist, are told of their 5-year-old son's diagnosis, adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a degenerative disease of the nervous system, they wait expectantly to hear how it will be treated. Then the doctor explains that there is no treatment, no hope. In a matter of months, Lorenzo (Greenburg) will be blind, deaf, mute, unable to walk; in two years, he will likely be dead. Refusing to accept the conventional wisdom and the seminal therapy of the leading ALD expert (Ustinov)—and finding no support and succor from ALD parents' groups—Sarandon and Nolte embark on their own hunt for answers, studying biochemistry, calling labs, making diagrams, devising diets and convening symposia in a desperate race against time.

What keeps Lorenzo's Oil, which unfolds in short, quick takes, from being a disease-of-the-week TV movie is its utter refusal to be upbeat when there is nothing to be upbeat about, and its inclusion of clinical details. The audience witnesses the full range of Lorenzo's horrific deterioration, the vileness of some of the "therapies," the specter of a child screaming and gasping for air in the midst of what looks to be a seizure. The movie is made even more exhausting by the performance of Nolte, who gesticulates wildly to make manifest his Neapolitan heritage and who, in every speech, sounds unaccountably like the little old winemaker. Both he and Sarandon, a veritable avenging angel, start off at such a fevered pitch that modulation, as desirable as it may be for the audience, becomes utterly impossible.

Even at its least frantic and anguished, it is very hard to like Lorenzo's Oil. It is equally hard, though, not to admire the care and caring that imbue it. (PG-13)

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