You’ve probably already seen Emmanuelle Bercot’s 150 Milligrams even if you haven’t technically seen it. The movie faithfully follows the “based on true events” formula for David vs. Goliath stories of the modern age, specifically the little guy taking on a huge company and/or the government. Bercot doesn’t break from this formula, but her secret weapon is in putting the emphasis on her compelling protagonist, Dr. Irène Frachon. While Frachon is in the mold of your typical do-gooder fighting against the evil empire, actress Sidse Babett Knudsen provides the shading and nuance to make the character come alive and feel real. You may not care too much for the crusade in 150 Milligrams, but you’ll care about the crusader.
In April 2009, Dr. Frachon notices that there are irregularities in the heart valves of her patients. Suspecting that the drug Mediator might be to blame even though it had been on the market for thirty years, Frachon recruits researcher Dr. Antoine Le Bihan (Benoît Magimel) and his team to conduct a study into Mediator’s effects. This sets Frachon and Le Bihan on a collision course with the drug’s manufacturer as well as the government body that had approved Mediator. As Frachon fights against powerful interests while her patients continue to die, her resolve is tested, as is her friendship with Le Bihan.
150 Milligrams never does anything unexpected. Bercot is devoted to her subject and directs like this kind of story has never been told before, but anyone who is remotely familiar with this dramatic subgenre will recognize all of the beats well beforehand. There’s a research montage, an intense standoff in a conference room, the smarmy representative for the pharmaceutical company, the righteous anger from our hero, the moment where all seems lost, the rally to complete the journey, and eventually justice is found. If you find these kinds of movies riveting, 150 Milligrams won’t disappoint.
But what makes it standout is Knudsen’s performance. She plays Frachon as a fully realized individual. Rather than try and create a hagiography, Knudsen taps into everything that makes a person human. Yes, we see the frustration and the relentlessness of Frachon’s journey, but where Knudsen shines is by highlighting Frachon’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. By relishing these imperfections, Frachon comes across as more real, and her crusade feels more important. She’s not some impossible savior; she’s someone you know who cares passionately about a particular issue.
Sometimes, when a film is as by the numbers as 150 Milligrams, it can be easily discarded, and while the movie doesn’t do anything to shake up the genre, it does provide a nice showcase for its leading actress. Moreover, it provides a good template for movies with female protagonists where they don’t have to be painted as one-dimensional figures who are either saints or sinners. It’s nice to see a film where a strong woman leads the charge and comes out the champion. While there are films that may do David-vs-Goliath with a little bit more flair, 150 milligrams has its hero in Knudsen.
For my other reviews out of the Macao Film Festival, click on the links below: