Lorenzo's Oil

Susan Sarandon is dependably fine onscreen, whether she's nominated (Thelma and Louise, Atlantic City) or stupidly ignored (Bull Durham). In Lorenzo's Oil, she delivers a stunning, emotionally direct performance as the mother of a five-year-old boy the doctors have given two years to live. The boy, Lorenzo Odone (Zack O'Malley Greenburg), suffers from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a paralyzing disease that also results in the loss of hearing and speech. This true story is hardly a rigged disease-of-the-week TV weepie, owing to the remarkable work of Sarandon as the Irish American linguist Michaela Odone and Nick Nolte as her Italian husband, Augusto, an economist with the World Bank. In concert with Australian director and co-writer George Miller — a physician turned filmmaker (Mad Max) — they transform a complex case history into gripping cinema.

Without any medical background, the Odones care for Lorenzo at home in Maryland, conduct research, arrange symposiums and refuse to accept defeat. Miller unflinchingly details the ravages of the disease on Lorenzo and on the marriage of the Odones. These are two heroic battles. One indelibly moving image: Sarandon reading a bedtime story to the immobile Lorenzo, convinced against all odds that her son is silently comprehending. Watching her proved right makes Lorenzo's Oil an invigorating adventure.

From The Archives Issue 77: March 4, 1971