Aged 7, Lorenzo develops ALD, a fatal and degenerative disease. Not content with sitting and watching their son die, his parents Augusta and Michaela start to investigate the disease and in the hope of finding a cure.
In this dramatic account of an extraordinary true story, director George Miller pursues unsentimental ends by laying bare the concepts of love, trust and faith, although it is not completely immune to Disease-Of-The-Week Syndrome, manifested in the viewer weeping despite resenting the blatant heartstring tugging that is going on here.
Heavy-hitting duo Nick Nolle (under the handicap of a painstaking Italian characterisation) and Susan Sarandon score heavily on the grief-and-rage-ometer as Augusto and Michaela Odone, whose son Lorenzo was diagnosed with an extremely rare and always fatal form of dystrophy, ALD, in 1984, when no treatment existed.
The devastated Odones, however, were not your average Joe and Betty next door, but highly educated take-charge people whose determination and medical detection including putting themselves on crash science courses would defy belief and invite sardonic hilarity but for the fact that their fanatical efforts did lead to the life-saving discovery now known as Lorenzo's Oil.
As co-written (with Nick Enright) and directed by Miller, who qualified as a doctor before birthing Mad Max, this is in part a gripping case of dogged intellectual sleuthing and in part a justifiable if unsubtle-bordering-on-the-satirical indictment of the medical establishment. It centres, though, on parental love approaching obsession, with the suffering of Lorenzo (Zack O'Malley Greenburg) torturously depicted as the Odones refuse to give him up and the audience begins to ponder how much distress life is worth.
Compassionate but tough-minded, this emerges as a love story, and one which, for all its handsome visuals, elaborate shots and swelling music, is uncomfortable viewing with nothing cosy or compromised in the unflinching performances, particularly Sarandon's.
The only phoney note, ironically, comes from Miller's gaffe of enlisting retired Yorkshire biochemist Don Suddaby, extractor of the said oil, for a self-conscious appearance as himself. That aside, this is exhausting, intelligent and undeniably moving .