reviewed by Briony Williamson
Moderate spoilers ahead
Director: Michael Apted
Premiere Date: Sept. 27, 1996
Once upon a time in New York, an emergency room doctor called Dr. Guy Luthan sees a patient who tells him he’s been dosed with a drug he’s never heard of, with wildly fluctuating medical symptoms and a wrist band for a hospital he’s unfamiliar with. After the patient dies, he starts looking into the case but is unable to find any similar case or reference to the drug. And then the body goes missing.
So begins Extreme Measures, adapted from a book by the same name by Michael Palmer. It’s a movie that I had almost completely forgotten about until seeing Hugh Grant in The Undoing, and a movie it turns out I’d largely confused with Conspiracy Theory. Hugh Grant plays Dr. Luthan, a charmingly affable doctor at Gramercy Hospital who is about to be promoted to a residency at New York University. Also at the hospital is nurse Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker), who kind of acts as Guy’s moral compass. In one scene, Dr. Luthan is forced to decide between a cop and a suspect who is to get the first slot in the operating theatre – he chooses the cop, despite the suspect being more badly injured, and Jodie calls him out on it.
Guy gets busy trying to work out what went wrong with his patient, despite being warned off the matter by his boss Dr. Jeffrey Manko (Paul Guilfoyle), and ends up being arrested when police find a bag of cocaine in his apparently burglarized apartment. In just 24 hours Dr. Luthan goes from being the star doctor on the rise to an unemployed drug felon. At the same time, Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman) is accepting a medal of honor for his research into regenerating spinal columns in rats.
Dr. Luthan follows the thread of the conspiracy beneath Grand Central Station, where a community of homeless people has taken up residence. People have been going missing, however, and if you’re wondering if the missing people have anything to do with Dr. Myrick’s surgery, then you would in fact be correct. This scene is probably my favorite of the whole movie, it’s incredibly claustrophobic and tense, and you can really feel the walls closing in on Dr. Luthan.
The drama clicks along nicely until Dr. Luthan discovers Dr. Myrick’s role as the head of a research facility conducting spinal experiments on homeless people (all of whom have died as a result). To demonstrate how important his work is Dr. Myrick convinces Dr. Luthan that he is now paralyzed. This leads Dr. Luthan to beg for his own death, a scene that felt pretty gross really. Myrick and Luthan debate the ethics of using human test subjects to better humanity – Myrick calls his homeless test subjects “heroes,” while Luthan admits that he has a point but as the homeless people did not choose to be subjected to the experiments, Myrick is a murderer.
Extreme Measures is actually better than I remembered, but it is a very uneven movie. It’s certainly an interesting premise and will leave you thinking about the morals of medical research, but the pacing will hurtle you along for the first hour and then leave you stranded for the rest. This might not be a problem for most people, but if you’re like me you will get to the end of the movie wondering about the theory of infinite universes, and which universe would have Gene Hackman play Carrie’s boyfriend Sex and the City, so just beware of that.