Screenplay : Tony Gilroy (based on the novel by Michael Palmer)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Hugh Grant (Dr. Guy Luthan), Gene Hackman (Dr. Lawrence Myrick), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jodie Trammel), David Morse (Frank Hare), Bill Nunn (Det. Burke), John Toles-Bey (Bobby)
God created humans with the desire to learn, and as a result, we hate not understanding something or feeling that something is out of our control -- especially when it comes to our own bodies. Medical science has advanced in huge leaps in the last 100 years, and every day new discoveries are being made that could make obsolete diseases and ailments that ravage millions of lives.
And so the question is posed: what price are we willing to pay for this?
This is the central question at the heart of the new medical thriller "Extreme Measures." Although much of the film is structured like a convential thriller, it has a philosophical core that sticks to your gut after you leave the theater. You find yourself wondering how far can doctors go in the name of science? What is right and what is wrong when it comes to saving human lives? Is it worth taking human lives in order to save more in the future?
The films stars Hugh Grant as Dr. Guy Luthan, a visiting British doctor who's working in an overcrowded and understaffed hospital emergency room while waiting to start his fellowship at NYU. One eveing he gets a mysterious homeless patient who dies after babbling a few revelatory sentences and then going into convulsive fits. Grant is immediately suspicious, and, against subtle and not-so-subtle warnings from everyone around him, he doggedly pushes forward in his pursuit to find out where this man came from and why he died. His curiosity ends upo virtually destroying his life, but the more unseen hands try to keep him away, the more determined he becomes.
All this eventually leads to the horrifying studies of Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman looking sour and intellectual with his mustache and half-rim glasses). Hackman doesn't have much screen time, but his character is complex nontheless. This is not an evil man as we would like to label him -- that would be too easy. The film denies us the simple payoff for good reason.
Instead, Hackman is introduced into the film as a human being, as a man with a family and respect. However, his flaw is his God complex. He believes the importance of his work justifies pulling homeless people off the street and performing experimental spinal surgery on them, causing most of them to die in the process. In fact, he believes that he has chosen the right thing to do, and the people he chooses to be his subjects are "heroes" because they didn't have a life anyway. His unrelently pursuit to heal one group of people has actually clouded his ability to judge the overall worth of human existence.
One of the film's strengths is the way it puts you in Grant's shoes and allows you to sink into this frightening netherworld with him, sharing his discoveries, his fears, and his justified frustrations that no one will believe him. You know just as surely as he does that something is going on, that someone is covering up, but no one will listen because it sounds too crazy.
This is hardly an original device (it was one of Hitchcock's favorites), but it works solidly here because of steady pacing and fine acting. Grant uses just the right amount of his insatible British charm to quickly win the audience over, but he doesn't push it like he did in "Nine Months."
When he's at the end of his rope after being chased and shot by Hackman's men pretending to be FBI agents, and he's banging on the door of a friend from the hospital (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), you feel for him even though you're almost cursing him for letting his curiosity get him (and you) into so much danger. You never feel separated from Grant's character, and this proves to be the driving force that moves the film along.
In a film like "Extreme Measures," pacing is everything. If it pauses for too long, you have a chance to recoil from the spell the story has cast on you. The film is deftly handled by director Michael Apted, who has worked with mystery thrillers before in films like "Gorky Park" (1983) and "Blink" (1994). He and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who adapted Michael Palmer's novel, put in enough plot twists and suspense to keep your absorbed until the film spirals down to the confrontation between Hackman and Grant, which is what the film is really about.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat