Saturday 5 February 2022

Movie Review: Extreme Measures (1996)

A medical thriller, Extreme Measures effectively combines a nefarious conspiracy with a measured moral dilemma.

In New York City, emergency room doctor Guy Lathan (Hugh Grant) is unable to save patient Claude Minkins, a homeless man who dies in agony for inexplicable reasons. Guy's suspicions are aroused when he receives a phoney autopsy report then Minkins' body disappears. His boss Dr. Jeffrey Manko (Paul Guilfoyle) urges him to move on, but Guy delves into the archives and finds disturbing similar cases of homeless men's files being mishandled.

Guy is framed for a drug offence and his promising career appears to be over. But with help from nurse Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker) he continues investigating, and uncovers the secret Triphase medical facility run by the distinguished Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman). Protected by corrupt FBI agent Frank Hare (David Morse) and police detective Bob Burke (Bill Nunn), Myrick is conducting unauthorized spinal nerve regeneration research using homeless men as unwilling test subjects. As Guy gets closer to the truth, his life is endangered.

Carrying strong echoes from 1978's Coma, Extreme Measures explores impetus for unsanctioned science. Here Dr. Myrick's motivation is not profit, but rather a genuine desire to reverse paralysis caused by spinal injury. Pursuing groundbreaking techniques and funded by the family and friends of spinal injury patients but running out of time due to his age, Myrick argues his homeless test subjects are worthwhile sacrificial heroes finally adding societal value.

In the hands of director Michael Apted and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (adapting a Michael Palmer book), this intellectual challenge is turned into a sleek thriller. Events move quickly but stay in focus, Guy adopting a determined and principled stance to uncover what really caused the horrible demise of his patient, albeit a patient he only knew for a few minutes. From there the mystery is revealed in layers, culminating in a good climax where action and words play an equal role.

The middle third is a weak spot, as Guy searches for another escapee from Myrick's institution within a homeless encampment located in tunnels deep below the subway system. The film points a flashlight at a sanitized version of human misery then meekly backs away, the episode registering as unnecessary padding for the longish 118 minutes of running time.

Star power easily rides out the rough spots. Extreme Measures is more about Hugh Grant than Gene Hackman, and it's good to see Grant tackling something other than a routine rom-com. He still brings his quip-ready persona to the role of Dr. Lathan, but is also serious when he needs to be. Hackman has just the few scenes, and makes the most of them with considerable gravitational pull. A pre-stardom Sarah Jessica Parker suggests untapped coy dramatic talents.

Despite less than perfect treatment, Extreme Measures finds most of the right doses.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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