George Miller of Mad Max (1979) fame is an Australian filmmaker who works on the international stage, taking advantage of overseas co-production possibilities and using the mightiest resources of the American system.
Lorenzo's Oil presents a true-life story that producers of affliction-of-the-week telemovies must dream of finding. Lorenzo Odone (Zack O'Malley Greenburg), a bright and energetic child, is suddenly afflicted with ALD (Adrenoleukodystrophy), a disease which renders him, in a very short time, mute, bedridden and helpless.
In a frantic race to halt the inexorable decline into death, Lorenzo's parents Augusto (Nick Nolte) and Michaela (Susan Sarandon) teach themselves the science of the disease from scratch and arrive at a breakthrough therapy.
Even if it had been merely a syrupy, blandly told telemovie, the story of the Odones could not fail to involve and move an audience. Fortunately, thanks to Miller and his co-writer Nick Enright, the raw material of Lorenzo's Oil has been transmuted into an indelible cinematic experience.
Miller's style is at once dramatically heightened and intensely focused – presenting a series of tight, elliptical scenes that come alive through sweeping camera movements and subtle sound manipulations.
Miller's approach stresses what is for him the mythic level of the story – the individual will to survive, life's eternal struggle and the necessary defiance of rigid bureaucratic authority.
There are other less well resolved issues that haunt the edges of the story, from the politics of Reaganomics and the marital problems of the Odones to AIDS and a peculiar romanticisation of Africa as embodied in the character of Omouri (Maduka Steady).
Artistically, however, the film's single-mindedness is its greatest virtue. No one should miss this marvellous, stirring and undeservedly underrated movie.
© Adrian Martin September 1993