Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Peter Ustinov, Kathleen Wilhoite, Gerry Bamman, Margo Martindale, James Rebhorn, Ann Hearn, Maduka Steady
Written by: George Miller, Nick Enright
Directed by: George Miller
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a child's life threatening ordeal
Running Time: 136
Date: 12/29/1992

Lorenzo's Oil (1992)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

This Mortal 'Oil'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Filmmaker George Miller may be best known for his Mad Max films, but it should be known that he's also a doctor, and, more so than many other action directors, tends to show great compassion in his works. His Lorenzo's Oil sounds like one of those movies you don't want to see, a disease-of-the-week weepie released at Oscar time, but he brings an incredible, surprising amount of kinetic energy to the story (a brief nightmare sequence may remind you of Mad Max), as well as a genuine emotional depth.

Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon are Augusto and Michaela Odone, whose young son Lorenzo contracts ALD. The disease has something to do with high numbers of fatty acids in the system which (I think) breaks down the myelin walls that protect the nerves. In any case, the disease eventually stops everything from working: motor skills, eyesight, hearing, etc., and results in death. But the Odones fight for their son's life, and find the answer in olive and grapeseed oils.

Astoundingly, as complex as all this is, the movie manages to explain all this in a way that doesn't talk down to the audience, but neither does it go over our heads. The late, great Peter Ustinov co-stars as a doctor, with Kathleen Wilhoite, Margo Martindale, James Rebhorn, and others in supporting roles. The performances are exemplary, with Nolte managing a complex Italian accent and Sarandon commanding every scene she's in. (Only Sarandon and the screenplay by Miller and Nick Enright received Oscar nominations.) The real-life Lorenzo lived until just past his 30th birthday and died in 2008.

In 2020, Kino Lorber released a beautiful Blu-ray edition, featuring a commentary track by film critic Peter Tonguette, who proclaims the film a masterpiece, optional subtitles, and a whole batch of trailers.

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