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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024