Jim Allison is an appealing figure, a Texas native who loves honky-tonk bars and plays harmonica for fun. In his day job, he heads an illustrious laboratory doing research into the source of cancer. Last year he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for a game-changing discovery that has eliminated cancer cells in hundreds of thousands of people. Bill Haney’s documentary Jim Allison: Breakthrough reveals the incredible persistence, fortitude, and sacrifice that led to that success.
The film explains Allison’s quest, and the way it evolved, with such clarity that even I can understand it—and I flunked my science courses in high school. I also came to learn how scientific research works: slowly. It takes a certain kind of person to court failure over and over again and never be deterred from his or her goal.
Haney paints a vivid portrait of Allison from boyhood to the present day, creating an empathetic hero for this true-life tale. We also meet a woman whose life was changed thanks to his discovery, along with a variety of doctors, scientists, and reporters. One woman spent years of her life stubbornly championing the treatment through arduous medical trials—and the indifference of pharmaceutical companies.
Breakthrough gets pretty deep into the weeds at times but never strays from its course. I reasoned that if the people onscreen could go the distance for the sake of a life-altering discovery I could power through some stretches of the story that aren’t completely absorbing.
Getting to know Jim Allison and some of his colleagues made me feel very small and humble. This worthy film chronicles a remarkable odyssey.
To learn more about the film and see when it is playing in theaters near you, click HERE.